Threat of Wildfires in California Could Intensify


Image from SfGate

Estelle Mengelberg, Reporter

Wildfires are a natural process in the California ecosystem, yet the fire season has been starting earlier and earlier, and the drought-stricken landscape has only been making the fires worse. 

According to CalFire, as of September 15th, almost 2 million acres of land have been burned by wildfires in 2021. The second-largest fire in California history, the Dixie Fire, has burned nearly 1 million acres and is still burning. It’s second to the August Complex fire that claimed the record just last year, with 1.3 million acres burned.

As of now, no major fires have occurred in Marin County, but the threat exists. This school year, a 44-acre grassfire in Lucas Valley on September 1, 2021 caused evacuations for some Novato High students. 

Novato High senior Jeffrey Neumann was evacuated when the fire started to approach his house. 

I had seen what had happened to other people’s houses during fires and I did not want that to happen to my home. The fire was on the other side of the hill I live on, about 150-200 yards from my house,” he said. 

There weren’t any major structural damages from this fire, and evacuations were quickly lifted. The fire was hastily extinguished, but the threat of evacuation still remains in many high danger areas. 

Marin Fire Chief Jason Weber said that Marin County can see as many as 70 fires in a year, many of which can lead to damage and evacuations. Almost 85% of Marin County’s land is open space, primed and ready for burning from the recent drought. Wildfire structure loss in Marin county is uncommon. 

“The last major structure loss in Marin was the Mt. Vision Fire in the Community of Inverness in 1995,” said Chief Weber.

The Mt. Vision Fire burned 12,354 acres and destroyed 45 homes. Marin is fortunate to not have experienced anything like this in recent years, but just because Marin hasn’t experienced any major structural damage in 26 years does not mean that it is completely safe. Worsening drought conditions and irregular rainfall have been intensifying the fires and the season.

The standard Northern California fire season is usually from June until November. However, the weather and climate have been changing. 

Chief Weber recalls the different fire protocols caused by recent, major wildfires.

We used to say ‘fire season is a season.’ It’s no longer a season and really lasts year-round in California. We down staff and enter into a winter mode after about three inches of rain,” Weber mentioned.

In the 2020-2021 wet season, Marin County didn’t get three inches of rain until January, pushing the fire season back two entire months. This year, severe drought dried out the vegetation in the open space, and out-of-season lightning strikes ignited minor fires. 

The irregularities in weather conditions and worsening droughts have made fire seasons hard to predict. Is this year going to have another record-breaking fire season? Only time will tell.