Shrub predicts fire season terror!


Bryant Baker

…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.

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.