USA — The Winter That Overstayed its Welcome ended up bestowing California with a gift: Wildfires took a far smaller toll than normal this year.
As local units of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection declared peak wildfire season over this week, a state tally showed that fires consumed 92,212 acres, the fifth smallest toll in 40 years and far fewer acres than the 93,000 burned the previous year. The acreage include lands overseen by the state as well as national forests managed by the federal government.
In the 12 months ending in June, California received 124 percent of normal rainfall, according to Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services, a consulting firm based in Saratoga.
October’s periodic showers prompted Cal Fire’s Bay Area units to end fire season Monday.
Cal Fire Capt. Jonathan Cox said that all fires in that period in Cal Fire’s areas in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties were held to 10 acres or fewer.
“Mother Nature is the biggest variable in wildfires and how severe a fire season will be,” Cox said. “It was a wet winter, and there weren’t the sustained (high) temperatures and wind.”
Cal Fire spokeswoman Mary Welna added, “The rain has everything to do with slowing the fire season down.”
About half of the firefighters on duty, who typically work a 72-hour workweek, were sent home for the winter. That’s about 120 people in the unit that oversees Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa counties and the west sides of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
Even though there were fewer fires and less acreage consumed this year, Jim Crawford, Santa Clara unit battalion chief, called the fire season normal.
This year’s mild fire season follows on 2010, when California recorded the second mildest fire season in 40 years.
Fewer fires this year came as a relief to Cal Fire officials, who saw their staff cut in state budget squeezes. Engine companies were reduced from four to three firefighters.
The state also cut $15 million from Cal Fire.
“Having a reduced activity during fire season has been a great cost savings to the state,” Crawford said.
Cox reminded homeowners, especially in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not to be complacent about the danger of wildfires. He urged residents to create defensible space around their homes.