Last month we witnessed the devastating impacts of fire that was fueled by years of drought and a recent welcomed (but dangerous) rainy season. It seems counter-intuitive that we’d see an increased fire danger after a rainy 2016-2017, but there’s a reason for it. First, the dead and dry vegetation from the drought years remain. Then, the rains brought an explosion of new growth, which was then met by a series of intense heat waves over the summer to dry it out. Old, dry vegetation mixed with a lot of newer, dry vegetation = fuel for fire.
As the climate changes, we continue to experience more extreme environmental conditions such as intense droughts that may be followed by major rainy seasons. Sudden oak death and bark beetle infestations are becoming more prevalent in the changing climate, contributing to tree mortality. Bark beetles, for example, thrive living in stressed trees, which is common during drought conditions. All of these factors contribute to the intensity of the wildfire season in California.
Image Source: NASA Earth Observatory
NY Times Article on Dead Trees in California
Bark Beetle Information: USDA