California wildfire research center makes a scary discovery

On the second day of April, the skies were clear over the San Francisco Bay Area and the view from atop the sun-drenched Mount Umunhum in the South Bay spread across a sea of green shrubs and trees carpeting the surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains.

It was a beautiful sight, but a team of researchers from San Jose State University’s Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center — the only wildfire research center in California — noticed something wasn’t quite right.

“I was shocked when we went up there because usually in April we have a lot of new growth and old growth, and we didn’t see any new growth on the shrubs,” said Craig Clements, a SJSU professor and director of the center. “We weren’t seeing any of the lighter colored, bright green new growth sprouting out of the growth. Usually we take clippings of new stems and there weren’t any. This has never happened.”

Clements shared an image (above) from the expedition on Twitter and wrote, “The lack of rain this season has severely impacted our chaparral live fuel moistures. Wow, never seen April fuels look so… dry. No new growth anywhere in this Chamise. April is climatologically the highest live FMC of the season. Very Scary!”

FMC refers to “fuel-moisture content” — a measure of the ratio of moisture to combustible material in brush and trees that indicates how prone they are to burning. And the image up top is an area ready and waiting for wildfire.

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