California officials are urging residents to begin preparing for this summer’s wildfire season — which may be delayed due to this year’s abundant winter weather, but will arrive sooner or later.
“This time of year, Southern California is beautiful. We have green hills, rolling hills behind us,” Dan Munsey, San Bernardino County fire chief, said at a state fire press conference Monday.
“With this cloudiness, you can almost pretend that we’re in Ireland. But let’s not forget that we are not,” he warned. “These hills were turned brown, and they will burn.”
Alongside state and federal emergency response officials, Munsey spoke in his home county to kick off California Wildfire Preparedness Week, which is dedicated to making communities more resilient to the impacts of wildfire and to improving forest health.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a proclamation Sunday making the week official and stressing that the region is “experiencing longer and more destructive wildfire seasons,” with California “on the frontlines of this existential threat.”
“Wildfire Preparedness Week emphasizes the importance of collaboration and individual responsibility in reducing and managing wildfire risk,” the proclamation stated.
Joe Tyler, director and fire chief of Cal Fire, recalled the drought conditions from the past few years that have exacerbated the risk that California’s frontline communities are facing.
“While this winter has brought historic snowfall and historic rain, and, as heard, these hills are green, they will dry out,” Tyler said.
“We must remain vigilant in our in our efforts to reduce the wildfires,” he added.
Although Tyler said he believes that “the timber isn’t going to burn for some time,” he qualified that assessment by adding, “don’t let the rain and the snow fool you.”
This winter’s record-setting weather is filling reservoirs statewide, but Tyler recalled that just last week, a small wildfire — the Nob fire — began blazing in San Bernardino National Forest.
“That is a stark reminder that shortly after the snow melts and the rain has gone away, that the fuels are still susceptible to ignitions,” he said.
“Now as we move into this spring, as you heard earlier, crops of grass — light, flashy fuels as we call them — will easily accept an ignition source and have that fire take off,” he added.
Tyler called upon Californians to “double down on the great work that’s underway,” while highlighting the effectiveness of last year’s “aggressive initial attack approach.”
The 2022 wildfire season saw an 85 percent decrease in the number of acres burned and a 75 percent reduction in the number of structures damaged, in comparison to the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Tyler said.
The fire chief attributed these successes to a significant boost in firefighting capabilities, as well as fuel reduction and forest restoration efforts.
Nonetheless, he stressed that wildfires will remain a fact of life in California and therefore urged residents to take preventative actions such as clearing materials from around their homes.
“Even with this year’s rain, it’s not a matter of if, but when, your family will be impacted by wildfire,” Tyler said.
Munsey, the San Bernardino County chief, echoed these sentiments, noting that “these mountains behind us, your front yards, will burn.”
“Make sure that you’re prepared,” he added.