BOISE, Idaho — Two small but unseasonably early fires burning in California’s wine country likely are a harbinger of a nasty summer fire season across the West. However, one expert says Nevada’s season should be normal.
Officials with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise said Wednesday in their first 2013 summer fire outlook that a dry winter and expected warming trend mean the potential for significant fire activity will be above normal on the West Coast, in the Southwest and portions of Idaho and Montana.
Nevada also is in the grip of a drought, but persistent lack of moisture has stunted fuel growth, said NIFC wildland fire analyst Jeremy Sullens.
“Nevada isn’t really included in the above-normal fire potential,” Sullens predicted.
In 2012, record-setting fires raged in New Mexico and Oregon, while destructive Colorado blazes torched hundreds of homes amid one of the state’s worst seasons in years.
Just like last year, Colorado experienced some of its first 2013 wildfires in March.
“We’re looking at a combination of a low-moisture winter and a warming and drying pattern in the West that will increase the fire potential,” said Ed Delgado, predictive services manager.
In California, wine-producing counties Napa and Sonoma experienced early-season blazes Wednesday, as warm temperatures, low humidity and gusting winds through already-dry foothills areas east and north of San Francisco led to warnings of extreme wildfire conditions.
Both were more than half-contained, according to crews.
The culprit behind a California fire season that’s a month ahead of schedule? A winter in which only 40 percent of normal precipitation fell and scant spring rain that typically greens up hillsides and pushes fires back into summer.
California’s “precipitation pretty much shut off at the beginning of the year,” NIFC wildland fire analyst Jeremy Sullens said during a telephone conference with reporters.
“Since they’re not expecting a lot more precipitation for the remainder of the summer, conditions are going to worsen as we go into the hotter part of the year.”