By Eric Sagara.
What seemed like welcome relief for California last December – the rainiest month in three years – instead triggered some of the worst fires in the state’s recent history. Early winter storms set records in some areas, dropping an average of 7.3 inches of rain throughout California. The parched state responded. Reservoirs began to fill. Cattle grazed on the verdant slopes of the Central Valley. Satellite images showed plants flourishing throughout the state.
But it was not enough. The moisture did little to hydrate trees and shrubs. But it did prompt widespread growth of wild grasses, which quickly dry out without rain.
“They set seed, they turn yellow and they are done,” said Tim Chavez, a battalion chief and fire behavior analyst with CAL FIRE. “All that does is provide kindling for the bigger fuels.”
That fuel – timber and brush – has contributed to one of the state’s worst fire seasons, including the recent Valley Fire, which charred more than 76,000 acres.