California wildfires

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California's wildfire season really has started earlier than usual this year.

The state's biggest fires usually don't strike until August or later. This year, California already is besieged with two major fires, and it's the first week of July.

The County and Pawnee fires have burned through a combined 85,000 acres northwest of Sacramento and aren't done yet.

The County Fire, which roared to life in rural Yolo County on Saturday afternoon, was spreading at nearly 1,000 acres per hour. It quickly spilled into Napa and Lake counties and was only 5 percent contained early Tuesday.

The 10-day-old Pawnee Fire was a more reassuring 80 percent contained on Monday, but it already had jumped its containment line once, and mandatory evacuations remained in effect for the Double Eagle subdivision of Lake County.

The two fires are merely a taste of what's to come, the earliest markers of what's shaping up as a particularly nasty year, fire officials and climatologists said Monday.

"It has been basically very dry since the beginning of April," said Paul Ullrich, a climatologist at UC Davis. "I wouldn't be surprised if the (fire) season is among the worst on record."

Already this year, Cal Fire has responded to 2,626 fires. That's about 260 more than at the same time a year ago, said agency spokesman Scott McLean.

McLean said it has gotten to the point that one fire season is bleeding into the next. "We're responding to wildland fires year round now," he said.

He added that the season is just getting geared up. "Southern California hasn't even lit off yet," he said. "And usually they start first, and the north follows up."

That could change in a matter of days: The National Weather Service on Monday warned of "potentially critical fire weather" in the Los Angeles area later this week, as temperatures hit triple digits.

Why has the fire season shifted dates on the calendar? The reason partially has to do with climate change, said UCLA climatologist Daniel Swain. Simply put, California is getting hotter.

"The overriding signal is that when it's warmer, whatever vegetation that's there ... it has the potential to burn more," Swain said.

The situation has turned dire the past two years. A cruel combination of weather extremes — the record rainfalls of 2017 followed by two summers of scorching heat — left a rich carpet of highly combustible grass and other vegetation.

The results have been almost predictable. Last year saw the deadliest and costliest wildfires in California history: the wine country fires, which killed 44 people in October.

Source: Sacramento Bee. July 02, 2018. BY DALE KASLER. Northern California wildfires are burning much earlier this summer.