Northern California’s fall fire forecast not looking good

Fall may bring cooler temperatures to the North Bay, but the threat of wildfires is still looming and may be worse than normal this year.

The National Interagency Fire Center’s monthly report shows that much of Northern California has “above-normal significant fire potential” for fires through November.

The Boise-based fire center, which includes such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, specifically references in its report the Coast Ranges from the Bay Area to Ukiah as an area at risk.

Its outlook is mostly attributed to the ongoing drought that has engulfed most of California and left dry vegetation across the state, including in Sonoma County.

The report also underscores that the upcoming weeks follow a busy September that involved major fires, including the 963,309-acre Dixie fire that’s burned across Plumas, Butte, Lassen and Tehama counties, and the Caldor fire, which has burned 221,775 acres in the Sierra Nevada and threatened South Lake Tahoe.

In response to existing conditions, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed legislation to expand use of prescribed burning to reduce wildfire hazards.

Most of California falls under “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought” conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Sonoma County is in the latter, which is the worst of the two conditions.

Though any and all rain would be welcomed, California has been in a drought for two years and heavy rainfall would be necessary to stave off concerns about wildfires.

“We have had atmospherical rivers come and go, but usually we need more than one to make up the deficit,” said Drew Peterson, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Data from his agency show a depressing trend in precipitation across the North Bay.

Santa Rosa’s wettest day last month was Sept. 18 when 0.07 inch of rain was recorded. Its wettest day all year was Jan. 26 when 1.5 inches of rain fell.

From January through September, Santa Rosa has had 8.55 inches of rain this year. Average monthly rainfall during that period adds up to 21.79 inches.

“The last two years for much of the Bay Area, if you add them together, it’s still less than one normal year,“ Peterson said.

A brief cooling period is on its way to the Bay Area on Thursday evening, but it’s not likely to bring any rain or even wind.

High temperatures across Sonoma County may peak in the low 70s on Friday with low evening temperatures dipping into the mid-40s. Areas to the north may have low temperatures of nearly 30 degrees.

Snow may fall across the central Sierra at elevations above 7,500 feet, but it’ll be light and melt quickly without alleviating concerns about fires, forecasters said.

Wind may develop at high elevations Monday into Tuesday, but for now they’re expected to be weak and forecasters will be monitoring conditions to determine if a fire advisory is necessary, Peterson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at On Twitter @colin_atagi

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