Number of California Wildfires Way Down in 2019 – but Fall’s Coming

Wind-driven flames from a wildfire race up a slope and cross the road in Malibu, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. Known as the Woolsey Fire, it consumed tens of thousands of acres and destroyed multiple homes. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – In a welcome change of pace after back-to-back historic wildfire seasons, the number of fires and total acres burned through August in California is down drastically compared to recent years.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says that as of Monday, the total number of acres burned in 2019 is down 90% from the average of the last five years, and down 95% compared to the disastrous and deadly 2018 season. Just 24,000 acres have burned so far in Cal Fire’s territory, compared to 621,000 acres at this time last year.

A multitude of factors are contributing to the good start, says Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean, namely a wet winter, additional firefighting resources and relatively few heat waves.

“I’m ecstatic,” McLean said of the acreage totals. “But we just can’t be complacent.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who took office just months after the November 2018 Camp Fire burned 14,000 homes in Paradise, has put wildfire prevention high on his legislative agenda. Since January, the Democrat has deployed over 100 National Guard troops to help with fuel reduction projects, used executive action to hire 400 additional seasonal firefighters and approved a state budget that includes over $125 million for new Cal Fire helicopters and C-130 air tankers.

McLean says the combination of steady weather – most parts of the state have yet to experience extended heatwaves or high wind events – and additional resources are allowing crews to focus on prevention efforts.

“The resources have bolstered what we’ve always done in the past,” McLean said. “We have 13 new engines; that means 130 bodies coming with those engines.”

The relatively calm summer is certainly good news to firefighters and Californians as a whole, but as McLean notes, many of the state’s worst wildfires happened toward the end of summer and early fall.

Last year’s fire season was capped off by a pair of blazes that burned simultaneously through much of November. The Camp Fire devastated Paradise and other parts of Butte County, while the Woolsey Fire burned 96,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

With above-average temperatures forecast for many parts of the state later this week, McLean warns that grasses and other fuels are drying quickly.

“We are starting to see that drying trend develop, so again we cannot be complacent,” Mclean said. “

The number of destructive wildfires near populated areas in recent years has sparked another alarming trend: Insurance companies refusing to renew or add new polices in areas prone to wildfires.

Data released Tuesday by the Department of Insurance shows a 6% increase in nonrenewals (88,000) for rural homes in 2018 compared to 2017. The next annual report could be even more eye-opening as the 2018 statistics don’t include all of the ended policies in areas near the Woolsey and Camp fires.

Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said the trend of increased nonrenewals has the potential to affect home sales and local economies, and called on lawmakers to work with the insurance industry for a solution.

“This data should be a wakeup call for state and local policymakers that without action to reduce the risk from extreme wildfires and preserve the insurance market we could see communities unraveling,” Lara said in a statement.

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