Tragedy continues in California as fire weather supports more wind-fueled fire outbreaks throughout the state. The Thomas Fire, the fifth largest fire in the state’s history, continues to burn out of control. Described by Cal Fire as “severe fire weather”, low dewpoints and gusty winds are helping fires continue to ravage the state despite the huge amount of manpower tackling the blazes. As of today, an army of 4,000 firefighters are in California attempting to protect lives and property.
According to Cal Fire, today’s weather forecast “will continue to promote significant fire growth further into Santa Barbara County, threatening the communities of Montecito and Summerland. Gusty Santa Ana winds will continue to push fire to the west while very low fuel moistures, high temperatures and single-digit relative humidities will support fire growth on the west and north sides. Extreme fire behavior will continue to hamper control efforts.”
The Thomas Fire alone covers more than 230,000 acres, which is larger than all of New York City. According to fire officials, more than 1,000 homes and other structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fire, with 18,000 more structures threatened. Preliminary damages from the Thomas Fire are at $38million and likely to rise as the fire continues.
More fires are burning in southern California as fire weather remains ripe there. Seasonal Santa Ana winds are blowing dry winds down mountain slopes near the coast, fanning the fires there. Soaking rains early in the year which helped end severe drought conditions for many also helped many types of brush and grass to grow; now dried out by those gusty winds, the fresh scrub serves as ripe fuel for these fires. “The simple formula is fuel plus meteorology plus ignition equals fire”, said Bill Patzert a climatologist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In an interview last October with the LA Times, Patzert added, “The catalyst is people.” With more subdivisions being built into areas naturally susceptible to these normal seasonal fires, the devastation will continue to increase with time.
While fire threatens buildings and people on the ground, smoke in the air is harming people far from the flames. Monitoring stations continue to record unhealthy air in Santa Barbara County, with levels of fine particles high and levels of larger particles, including ash particles, rising. Forecasts show that smoke and ash will continue to affect the southern part of Santa Barbara County for the next several days, and the Santa Ynez Valley and the northern parts of the County will see increasing impacts. Due to the hazards of these fire-related pollutants, authorities there have issued an Air Quality Warning which will remain in effect until conditions improve, which will depend on winds, and the control of the Thomas Fire.