Saturday, January 7, 2012

"They" Say

They,  the old gravely voiced ones, used to say that it's not the fire season after a wet winter that will kick your ass, it's the season after that.

A lot of those guys were remarkable in their knowledge - that of history, experience and weather patterns. They were remarkable in appearance as well. The tobacco stained fingers or teeth, the limps and the bags under their eyes. They had been in the business for a long time. Some had started their careers as "fire truck drivers" long before there were captains, engineers and firefighters all riding the engines at the same time. Back when the IC was known as the fire boss and when Smokey was a cub. Some of those guys put out the burning bush, shortly after Moses found the tablets and called it in.

Last year was a very wet winter throughout most of our state. This year, not so much. With the exception of San Diego county and the southwestern corner of my county, the state of California is way behind on rainfall. It has also been unseasonably warm.

My city has received exactly  1/10th of an inch of rain since December 1st, 2 inches would be closer to normal. The high temperatures have not been below the mid-70s since Christmas eve, most days the high temps were in the 80s. While not extreme fire weather by any means, the warm dry weather, which is believed to be caused by a "La Nina" weather pattern,  may be the foretelling of a hot dry summer and a long fire season.

We did receive some early rain in October and November, it's appearance pretty much eliminated fire season this year. Last years growth is still present, the brown ,dead fuels mixed with the stunted growth from that fall moisture . In August, barring meaningful moisture, both will be dead and tinder dry - waiting for the Santa Ana winds to turn small incidents into major events. It is always a matter of which arrives in Southern California first - the winds or the rain.

Should the rains arrive first (as they did this fall) fire season ends early and the seasonal firefighters get laid off. The limited term promotions expire and everybody goes back to their regular assignments. If the winds arrive first, things can go to hell in a hurry. Staffing patterns are enacted and wildland firefighters all over the state might spend several weeks at work without getting to go home. It's always a crap shoot.

Maybe the gravelly voiced ones only anecdotally remember the various bad fire seasons and the winters that preceded them. Or, maybe, their recollections are more detailed than that and are compounded by the lore of the gravelly voiced ones that they learned their craft from. Regardless, I remember their words, if for nothing more than see if they are right.

If so, this summer and fall might be good ones to be out of the game and to document them with a camera. Time will tell.

Thanks for reading.,


  1. Could it be that your own voice is getting a bit gravelly too?

  2. FireCap5 - Maybe, though I just have the voice and the limp. The wisdom - not so much.

    Thanks for the comment.