Extreme Red Flag Fire Warnings Across Southern California, As Drought And Wind Fuel Fire

CREDIT: AP Photo/Nick Ut

A wildfire burns in the hills just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Glendora, Calif., on Thursday, Jan 16, 2014. Southern California authorities have ordered the evacuation of homes at the edge of a fast-moving wildfire burning in the dangerously dry foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service issued a red flag fire warning for Kern County, north of Los Angeles, for the first time ever in January. Low humidity, strong winds and a lack of rain or snowfall has made the mountainous area especially susceptible the early onset of fire season.

Dry and windy conditions across the region have led to critical fire warnings in counties including Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and south toward the Mexico border, as well as some areas near the San Francisco Bay.

“Following the driest year on record, 2014 is kicking off as what may be the driest January on record in many locations in California,” senior meteorologist Jon Erdman said.

Los Angeles, which averages 14.74 inches of rain, ended 2013 with 3.4 inches. According to the Los Angeles Times, earlier this week a meteorologist warned that fire danger in many parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties is “about as high as it can be.”

As of this morning a brush fire broke out near the edge of the Los Angeles National Forest. The 125-acre fire has prompted the response of at least 60 firefighters and caused mandatory evacuations.

“We’re fighting this fire extremely aggressively both on the ground and in the air,” Los Angeles County Fire inspector Scott Miller told local news.

On Tuesday a small but high-impact fire blazed through the hills near Pacific Coast Highway along Los Angeles’ Pacific Palisades, causing lanes to close for nearly six hours.

The Santa Ana winds contribute significantly to the fire hazard.

“Spawned by surface high pressure over the interior of the West, the Santa Anas form as the cold air flows toward Southern California, then speeds up and warms as it descends in a rush toward the coast,” reported the Weather Channel on Wednesday. “Some of the most extreme gusts reported by the National Weather Service topped 70 mph.”

Temperatures across the area have approached record highs all week and no rain is forecast in the near future. On Monday the high temperature at LAX was 83 degrees, matching the record for that date.

The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, is expected to announce that the state of California is officially in the midst of a drought in the next few days.

“It’s really serious,” Brown said on Monday. “In many ways it’s a mega-drought; it’s been going on for a number of years.”

According to a report released last August by the California Department of Environmental Protection, the state is already experiencing the impacts of climate change. As ClimateProgress reported, the study found “widespread evidence of the toll climate change is taking across the across the state, including more frequent and intense wildfires, rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers, warmer lakes and oceans, and hotter temperatures.”

Earlier this month surveyors found the Sierra Nevada mountain’s snowpack to be just one-fifth of normal for this time of year. Snowpack usually provides around one-third of California’s annual water use, but this year it could be more like one-twentieth. Even more — it is an indicator of the water challenges 2014 is likely to bring, as the longer-term impacts of the extreme dryness of 2013 take hold.