…Chamise turns out to be a fascinating plant, one critical not only to the California landscape but to the safety of its human residents. When fire scientists want to know how flammable the state’s vegetation might be, they don’t rely on some newfangled gadget. They rely on chamise. “It’s a really pretty and kind of understated shrub,” says Bryant Baker, conservation director of the Los Padres ForestWatch … “And I think because it’s so common, it’s often taken for granted.” …
…Because the plant is so abundant, it’s a sort of standardized species—they can sample it all over the state. Fire weather researchers like San Jose State University’s Craig Clements … use it to get an idea of how parched vegetation is overall.
And nothing scares a fire weather scientist quite like a year with dehydrated chamise. If it’s dry, then that’s a good indicator that everything is dry. “Right now, these are the lowest April 1 fuel moistures we’ve ever had,” Clements says. This is supposed to be the time of year when moisture levels are at their highest, thanks to recent autumn and winter rains. But California is withering in a drought.
Read it and weep, sisters and brothers. Much will potentially be destroyed in this year’s fire season. And, so far, I haven’t read of any new ingenious way of stopping wildfires.