Despite L.A. storms, region will still be parched, fire-prone

A Super Scooper, on lease from Quebec, makes a water drop on the Madre fire in the Angeles National Forest above Azusa last year. Its lease was extended into March.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Even as Los Angeles wades through the middle of one of the wettest periods in at least two years, public officials and weather forecasters say it will do little to catch the region up on one of the driest rain seasons on record, and may not decrease fire danger much at all.

“Although Los Angeles County is expected to receive some significant rainfall ... our region is still in a drought and fire danger remains high,” Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said in a news release this week.

Angelenos have, in many ways, embraced these storm systems as necessary for a parched region that has been bound by dry, summer-like conditions during what is supposed to be its rainy season.

Prior to the current weather systems, just 1.2 inches of rain had been recorded in the region since July 1, the start of the rain-measuring year. The average for this point in the season is about 10.45 inches.


“We’re so far behind right now that it would take several of these storms to bring us up,” said meteorologist Kathy Hoxsie of the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The long-term forecast does call for a storm system possible in Northern California, which could mean another event in L.A. if it makes it way south. But even that system would likely do little to sustain the levels of moisture fire authorities hope for.

“It reduces the problem for the short period, those fuels that are typically the ones that will fire off and get things started will be too moist ... but it won’t take very long for those to dry out again,” Hoxsie said, referring to vegetation made tinder dry by the prolonged dry spell.

“This will improve the short-term fuel moisture.... In the short run they’ll be harder to burn, but if we go on another, even weeklong drying session, those fuels will be back to where they were,” she added.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Tony Akins had a similar view.

“This rain coming in will help that [fuel moisture level] tremendously,” he said. “However, it’s not at a point yet where we can say three or four days of rain will” make a radical change.

The relatively weak rain storm that passed through Los Angeles County on Thursday was expected to be followed by a much stronger one Friday, bringing with it the threat of debris flows and flooding.

But with the region not out of the wildfire woods, Antonovich announced that the lease for two CL-415 Super Scoopers from Quebec -- which can each carry 1,620 gallons of water and fly three hours before refueling -- had been extended through March 15.

“In addition to County Fire’s own aerial fleet, the Super Scoopers are powerful tools to protect life and property,” Antonovich said.

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