California wildfires fanned by unusually harsh conditions
Winds that weather experts said normally arrive in force in the late fall fueled flames in the Springs fire that quickly chewed through 6,500 of acres of dry brush.
William Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada, said that Southern California’s weather has been out-of-whack, with Santa Ana winds descending on Southern California much earlier than they usually do and low moisture levels.
“It was promising up to December and then all of sudden Mother Nature turned off the spigot,” he said. “It’s remarkable to get Santa Anas in May.… Every way you look at it, it’s been remarkable, unusual and incendiary.”
Southern California, like much of the state, has experienced record levels of dry conditions since the nominal “rain year” began last July. With only about five inches of rain since that time, Los Angeles is headed toward its fourth-driest year since 1877. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which protects about a third of the state, said that it has dealt with more than 150 blazes this year compared to 2012.
Patzert said Saturday and Sunday should see some cooling, with the possibility of drizzle on the tail end of the weekend. But there’s no logical reason to expect Southern California to get significant rain until late in the year. Since the New Year, downtown L.A. has experienced less than two inches of rain through months that are almost always the year’s wettest.
Average for this point in the rain year is more than 11 inches of rainfall.
“We are at 17%. That is exceptional,” he said. “Our hope for a drought buster was dashed and an early fire season was guaranteed.”
In the foothills of Camarillo near Newbury Park, water-dropping helicopters dropped their load over zig-zagging scars of bright red flames. Some residents wielded water hoses to douse fires.
“It’s very unpredictable. Winds are swirling and twisting, and we don’t know what way it’s going to turn,” said Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tom Kruschke.
An update from the Ventura County Fire Department about noon said that more than 500 firefighters are now either on the ground or en route to the blaze near Camarillo Springs.
“Residents are encouraged to comply promptly with evacuation orders. All residents in the general area should be aware of the risk from windborne embers. Monitor your property and extinguish any embers you can safely handle.”
Residents watched warily, their packed cars at the ready, as the growing fire crept closer to hundreds of homes in Newbury Park and Camarillo.
“We’re packed and ready to go,” said Jan Moore. “But we’re just hoping they can protect this area here.”
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