Plumas County had better brace for the worst wildfire conditions on record

Feather Publishing

California is burning.

That might sound like an alarming statement, but it’s a fact. Take a look at any of the various state maps that indicate where wildfires are currently burning. The maps are dotted with red. And we haven’t even reached the peak fire season yet.

That, however, is not entirely true. In 2014, fire season arrived early. Actually, it never left. After two years of record drought we are living in the middle of a tinderbox. Our forests are so dangerously dry that the governor declared a state of emergency in early June. In May Gov. Jerry Brown told us to brace for one of the worst fire seasons ever.

The statistics tell the story. From Jan. 1 to July 7, there have already been 2,990 wildfires in the state. Fortunately, most of them have been quickly contained. They have burned 24,218 acres.

But when compared to the five-year average for the same period, the numbers are startling. There have been 889 more fires than average.

There is no end in sight. This is the dry season. The fall rains won’t be here for at least three months. The rain we do get will be accompanied by lightning strikes. Aside from human carelessness, lightning accounts for most wildfires. Sometimes the lightning-caused fires aren’t noticed for days as they smolder long after the storms have passed. They burst into flames as soon as the wind picks up.

The threat of fires isn’t news to us. We are all aware of the dangers, especially where we live. We are reminded almost weekly with notices and declarations in this paper by Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service.

On July 1, Cal Fire ordered burning bans across the 31 million acres of state land that it is responsible for protecting.

Locally, the Plumas National Forest has issued campfire and woodcutting restrictions. The PNF has urged people to cut their firewood now. If fire conditions get worse, we wouldn’t blame the Forest Service for halting woodcutting altogether — at least until the rainy season.

If we get a rainy season at all.

Last week, the National Weather Service reported that the wet El Niño weather pattern brewing in the Pacific Ocean won’t be as strong as initially predicted. There were hopes that El Niño would mean an earlier, and wetter, rainy season for Northern California. That now looks less likely. More likely, we are headed for a third straight dry winter and a continuation of our record drought.

In short, things are looking grim. Mother Nature is in charge and she’s not expected to deliver the moisture we so desperately need.

All we can do is be careful in the woods. Be careful riding our ATVs and cooking outdoors. Simply, we have to be careful with fire. This summer, more than any in recent memory, our forests depend on us.

So far we have been fortunate. We survived the onslaught of thousands of visitors and fireworks over the Fourth of July. We have survived several small wildfires that have been quickly extinguished by our hardworking and talented fire crews.

County residents are keenly vigilant this time of year. It’s common for 911 dispatchers to get several calls when residents see, or even smell, smoke.

Let’s hope our vigilance and luck holds out for another few months. California is burning. Let’s do everything we can to make sure Plumas County doesn’t.

Editorials are written by members of the editorial board and should be considered the opinion of the newspaper. The board consists of the publisher, managing editor and the appropriate staff writers.

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