Firefighters watch as the Powerhouse fire closes in around them at the Canyon Creek Complex sports camp, California, 1 June 2013. Photo: David McNew / Getty Images

By Kaci Poor for The Times-Standard, and Alicia Chang and Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writers
6 July 2013

(Eureka Times-Standard) – […] An updated U.S. drought monitor map for California -- released each Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center -- shows nearly all of California, including Humboldt County, falling under a severe drought designation.

”This year has definitely been an extremely dry year,” said Nancy Dean, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service's Eureka office. “Although we had a lot of rainfall in November and December, after that it pretty much shut off. Because of that, fuels are much drier now than they would be at this time during other years.”

Rainfall in Humboldt has ranged from 25 percent to 50 percent below normal since January, with the Eureka office of the National Weather Service recording just 11.14 inches of rainfall between January and June.

Although Dean notes that Northern California did receive a bit of rain in June, she said the impact was negated by the high temperatures that followed.

Between April and June this year, Dean said temperatures in Ukiah averaged roughly 3 degrees above average. […]

In many places, more people are living in fire-prone areas near forests, grasslands, and shrub lands, which complicates firefighting logistics.

Over the past years, firefighters on the front lines have complained about how flames “go berserk in ways they never used to see,” Running said.

Though the Yarnell Hill Fire, at 13 square miles, was not considered huge compared with previous fires in Arizona, its ferociousness caught many off guard. Investigators said it appeared the Granite Mountain Hotshots were overrun by flames fanned by erratic winds.

At one point, the fire raced four miles in just 20 minutes, fed by the dry brush and 41 mph winds that suddenly switched direction, said Yavapai County Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Newnum.

Climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona said unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed, huge, fierce wildfires will become the norm.

”We owe it to the men and women who put themselves in harm's way to do everything we can to make their firefighting jobs safer,” Overpeck said in an email.

Governments also need to rethink the way they deal with fires, which could mean just letting some burn rather than sending fire crews into increasingly intense and unpredictable situations, said University of Montana fire scientist and elite firefighter Carl Seielstad.

”I think it's inevitable,” he said. “We're going to have to accept defeat when we're defeated.” [more]

Gearing up for an 'extreme fire year;' experts: Expect bigger, fiercer wildfires in West

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