Cal Fire: We're Already At 400 More Fires Than At This Time Last Year

The Thomas Fire advancing on December 10, 2017. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Wildfires are a natural part of California's ecology, but their frequency, especially over the last few years, feels unrelenting.

Southern Californians recently lived through the largest fire in state history, and "2018 has been very busy," said Mike Muller, Deputy Director with Cal Fire. "We're well over 400 more additional woodland fires than at the same time last year. We've already increased the amount of responses."

It seems we're on track for another difficult fire year, and the looming question now is just how bad. That answer will depend on a number of factors, but there are some things we can look at to help fill in our crystal ball.

THE HOTNESS

The average temperature for the state has been 56.1 degrees — 2.9 degrees above average. And so far we've lived through the 10th hottest start of the year on record in California, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Over the past few months we've also seen daily records crushed as temperatures topped 118 degrees in southern parts of the state.

And while this alone doesn't mean our year will be filled with fire, it's something to watch. Things have been hotter and that means drier landscapes and conditions that make fighting fires more difficult.

Plus, another heat wave is expected to move into town next week. And we haven't reached the peak of our hot season yet.

THE DRYNESS

Our rainy season was not great. It didn't kick in until February — about two months late — and even when it did, it didn't give us much of a reprieve.

Most of the state is still experiencing moderate and severe drought conditions, which means that things are dangerously dry out there.

"This is the normal. With drought conditions, climate change. And really we burnt through all of 2017. And with what we're seeing right now, unless something drastic changes we can see it throughout 2018," said Muller.

THE FUEL

Wildfires can't burn without massive fuel loads, and in Southern California, chaparral is what we see catch fire across our mountains.

That was true for the Thomas fire and it's likely what we'll see this year, according to Richard Minnich, Department of Earth Sciences at UC Riverside.

"We're going to have burning for the coming months until fall rains," he said.

There's old growth chaparral throughout the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains and near Idylwyld and Arrowhead. These are areas of concern, considering that some of the spots haven't burned in over a century.

Grasslands are another fuel to watch out for, as seen in the deadly Santa Rosa fires last year. They're invigorated by heavy rains, and California's wet 2017 winter and subsequent hot and dry fall set them up perfectly to burn. Grasslands are found more locally in Riverside, the Inland Empire, and the low lying hills in Los Angeles. But given the lack of rain, they're less of a concern this year.

FIGHTING FIRE WITH FACTS

Fire season is year round, so if you live in a fire prone area, channel your inner Smokey the Bear, and prepare for the inevitable.

CalFire has resources that go over how to renovate your home and adjust the landscaping to be more fire resistant.

But, when asked, Muller's big recommendation was to have an evacuation plan ready.

"When we issue a fire weather watch ... or a red flag warning, then they need to treat that like it would be a hurricane warning on the east coast," he said.

Once a wildfire moves through, though, the likelihood of another in the same area lessens, possibly for decades, depending on the severity.