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Southern Fire 65% Contained As California Braces For Another Active Wildfire Season

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People who were evacuated are back in their homes and firefighters continue to make good progress in handling the Southern Fire in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. But when the fire started on Saturday, it took off with frightening speed, doubling in size overnight.

Speaker 1: 00:00 People who were evacuated are back in their homes and firefighters continue to make good progress and handling the Southern fire in Anza, Borrego, desert, state park. But when the fire started on Saturday, I took off with frightening speed doubling in size overnight. The Southern fire consumed 5,200 acres and destroyed three homes. And two outbuildings 500 residents near shelter Valley were evacuated while this blaze is being controlled. Fire officials are concerned that it may be a sign of things to come as most of California heads into fire season. In the midst of another drought, joining me is Alex tardy warning coordination meteorologist with the national weather service here in San Diego. Alex, welcome back.

Speaker 2: 00:44 Hi, thanks for having me on again.

Speaker 1: 00:47 What were the weather conditions like over the weekend that made the Southern fire grow so quickly?

Speaker 2: 00:52 Yeah, that was a frightening fire, especially since we're talking about it's only early may and we're talking about full large fires and even evacuations that resulted the weather conditions were windy. As you might suspect though, they were not Santa Ana winds. Uh, we saw gusty westerly winds, so coming in off the ocean, but the problem was on Thursday and Friday and even Saturday, it was downright hot out in that area. So the combination of the heat, the gusty West winds, and then you had a fire start and it was a bad ingredient.

Speaker 1: 01:28 We have a quote here from Cal fire, San Diego, captain Franklin, Coco, talking about what he feels is the fortunate direction of the wind.

Speaker 3: 01:37 This fire. We actually had the benefit of a winds coming out of the West, which pushed it to the push to fire, obviously East and towards mostly unpopulated areas with the exception of the Butterfield ranch, campground and a few surrounding houses.

Speaker 1: 01:53 Now we all know that San Diego hasn't had much rainfall this year, Alex, how below average are we?

Speaker 2: 01:59 Yeah, that's the bigger problem. And that's really what set up the potential for this fire to burn as well as it did or to be so aggressive and fast moving rate of spread. This has been a dry winter, especially in our desert areas where they've received only 20 to 30% or maybe a quarter of what they should see annually. So we're talking about deficits of several inches. So that's a several storms basically that are missing. And this is unfortunately everywhere in San Diego County, uh, including downtown San Diego, including our, our mountains and our valleys, where we live and along the coast where most places have only seen 50% or half of their annual precipitation. And here we are in may. Uh, we typically don't see a lot of precipitation after may to make up for it. Does that mean we're officially in a drought?

Speaker 2: 02:53 Okay. So for California, drought is officially declared by the governor's and at the moment, no, Southern California has not been declared a drought. They've been piecemealing it and identifying worse-off areas in California, where drought has been identified. Now that said we are abnormally dry and conditions just to our North in LA basin are even worse. So drought is starting to spread and creep. It just hasn't been officially announced here in Southern California as drought, but it looks inevitable because conditions with warmer temperatures, the dry winter, we're seeing the expansion of drought, light conditions even here in Southern California. Water supply is a big factor in all of this.

Speaker 1: 03:43 Now last year was a record breaking fire season in the state. How does this year compare to last year?

Speaker 2: 03:50 Yeah, last year was record breaking over 4 million acres burned across all of California. Even here. We had the Valley fire that erupted in September in San Diego County during record hot temperatures, I think based on the fuel moisture. So the measure of moisture or the lack of moisture in our fuel in San Diego County, it's at record levels right now, already. And we don't want to say that because it's only may, this is supposed to be our green time where the grass is growing and things are blooming and coming to life, but it's going to be a short window. It looks like this year and we're going to be talking about extreme conditions, uh, as soon as late spring, if not already developing right now. So depending on how many fire starts we have, that's the key, uh, will determine if this becomes a busy or just average year, but we're looking at, unfortunately above average, we think for fire potentials, we go into the summer

Speaker 1: 04:48 Now, you know, we're seeing may gray on and off with the Marine layer and it got downright chilly last week. Is there any chance of rain in the forecast at all,

Speaker 2: 05:01 Other than just some drizzle and, and light rain like we saw if you're out and about on Sunday, other than something like that, this is the time of the year on the coast where we typically see a lot of clouds, hence the may gray, June gloom terminology. Um, our ocean temperatures are behaving themselves this year, so they're staying average. Uh, so that's good for the coast, but that's probably not going to help much for our back country. Uh, so our back country is unfortunately going to have to deal with, you know, the, he waves the warmer temperatures and of course the elevated to sometimes critical fire conditions like we've already seen for our coastal areas. It'll buy us some time, the Marine and low clouds they look like there'll be returning on a regular cycle as we go through may and June, but keyword is biased some time, uh, when we get deeper into the summer, uh, I think we're all going to be in this fire danger.

Speaker 4: 05:58 I've been speaking

Speaker 1: 05:58 With Alex tardy, he's warning coordination, meteorologist with the national weather service here in San Diego and Alex. Thank you very much.

Speaker 4: 06:06 Yeah. Thank you very much on me on.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.