Jul 12, 2017

California Wildfires Feed on Grass Brought on by Winter Rain

Oroville, CA
USA
by
Don Thompson and Andrew Dalton
,
NBC Southern California
Flames from the Wall Fire consume a vintage Chevrolet Super Sport near Oroville. Photo: NBC Southern California via AP
Flames from the Wall Fire consume a vintage Chevrolet Super Sport near Oroville. Photo: NBC Southern California via AP

Wildfires driving people from their homes in California and throughout the U.S. West have had help from an unlikely source: the rain.

Major winter downpours that pulled the state out of years of drought also brought a layer of grass that early-summer fires are greedily feeding on.

"What the heavy rains have done is created a grass crop that we haven't seen in forever," said Santa Barbara County fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni, whose department was battling two large wildfires. "That creates faster moving fires, hotter fires, it carries fire much more readily."

Older, dried out trees and vegetation are especially dangerous for wildland blazes, but enough new and drying grass can provide links between such tinderboxes.

Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says that diseased and damaged trees and dead vegetation from during the drought "can be ignited by the lighter fuels that come from the wet winter," making for better-fed fires.

Despite a hot and dry weekend, crews were making progress against dozens of fires across California, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Authorities surveying the damage from a fire in Northern California said Tuesday that at least 36 homes and 37 other buildings had been destroyed near the town of Oroville.