A Napa Valley Wildfire Is Burning Across 2,500 Acres As Drought Wallops California

CREDIT: CBS San Francisco

The LA Times is reporting that a Napa County, California wildfire is now spread across 2,500 acres, after breaking out around noon on Tuesday.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fire was about 30 percent contained as of Tuesday evening. About 100 firefighters have been working in 90-degree heat to combat the blaze, aided by three helicopters and six fixed-wing tankers. Homes in Berryessa Estates and along Butts Canyon road in the Pope Valley area of Napa have been forced to evacuate.

The wildfire has been helped along by the massive drought that’s consumed the state, and left behind swaths of dry vegetation and timber as fuel. As recently as April, “moderate” to “exceptional” drought conditions covered every last inch of California, and the latest U.S. Drought Monitor readings have not shrunk by much. And after three straight summers of parched conditions, the market in private water sales throughout California’s central farmland has boomed: in the last five years, the price of water has grown ten times to as much s $2,200 per acre-foot.

In the previous drought of 2009, the state got involved to alleviate price spikes. But this time it’s been more hands-off, and economists say it’s been decades since the California water market has seen anything like this.

Those conditions have also driven official estimates of wildfire potential to “above normal” for most of western and central California, from July through September. The national budget for fighting wildfires in 2014 is already anticipated to come up around $400 million short. The Department of Agriculture projects that spending to deal with wildfires this season will hit $1.8 billion, versus the $1.4 billion Congress actually allocated for 2014. That will force the departments to cover the gap by pulling funds away from activities that help to preemptively reduce fires, like forest and brush thinning and controlled burns. It’s a practice called “fire borrowing,” and the government has had to do it for seven of the last twelve years.

The length of wildfire seasons has ballooned across the country by 60 to 80 days since the 1980s, and the amount of acres consumed by wildfires each year has doubled to more than seven million.

President Obama’s latest proposed budget boosts the U.S. Forest Service’s allocation by 4.7 percent, to $2.3 billion, in order to suppress and research wildfires. He’s also proposed a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund to drive new research, new technologies and new forms of infrastructure, and to aid communities in preparing for extreme events like wildfires brought on by climate change. With Republican majorities still dominating the House, it’s unlikely any of these measures will pass.

The latest science also ties man-made greenhouse gas emissions to California’s parched state, as global warming shifts climate patterns so that precipitation and lower temperatures are increasingly shifted around the western seaboard, only to re-converge in the eastern half of the United States.