California Wildfire in the Chapparal: Fire Rages in San Jacinto Mountains

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Seen from space: the smoke from California’s Mountain Fire. Photo: NASA / CC by 2.0

California Wildfire has extreme potential for growth: Reports say that California’s Mountain Fire is not going to be completely contained any time soon.

The Mountain Fire began on Monday afternoon, and it has burned more than 20,000 acres in California’s San Jacinto Mountains.

This wildfire has triggered an evacuation of both a Ronald McDonald summer camp and a Girl Scout camp, closed state highways and sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, and is moving forward in difficult terrain.

A Moderate Fire Season

In spite of large fires and tragedies such as the death of firefighters in Arizona, so far the 2013 wildfire season has been less damaging than usual, at least in terms of the number of acres that have burned.

As of July 17th, over 2 million acres of land had burned, compared to a ten-year average of just over 3 million acres. However, there are many ways to assess the damage of a fire, and acreage is just one of them – to those who have lost loved ones or homes to this year’s fires, this is truly a terrible fire season.

Fighting Chapparal Fires

Some fires are easier to fight than others. The conditions that the fire is burning in help shape the movement of the fire. Some fires begin in terrain that’s easy to access, in conditions of low wind and high moisture. The Mountain Fire is not one of them. The Mountain Fire is burning in difficult terrain, making it a challenge to fight. It’s also burning in timber and chapparal.

Chapparal is an ecosystem that covers five percent of California, and it forms in a Mediterranean climate. These climates have mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. This particular type of climate occurs in other places in the world as well. Chapparal ecosystems contain plants and animals that are used to the hot, dry conditions of the summer. Oak trees and heat-loving animals like lizards and snakes are common – in fact, chapparal means scrub oak in Spanish.

These ecosystems experience fires, particularly in the dry months when conditions are right. In the summer, high temperatures and low humidity combine to create good burning conditions. In the summer months, the plants themselves are also less moist, making it easier for them to burn. Many shrubs in the chapparal have small leaves, which provides a well-oxygenated fuel source, since oxygen can easily move into the shrub once it catches on fire.

The chapparal is home to oaks and dry land animals such as snakes. Photo: Dominic Sayers / CC by 2.0

California Wildfire: Challenging and Growing Fast

Fires in the chapparal bring new growth, but this one is hard to contain. It’s moving across challenging terrain, in dry conditions. With projections that this year’s fire season could be longer than those in the past, California residents will need to be especially watchful in the dry timberlands and chapparal.

Resources

California Chapparal Institute. The Chapparal. Accessed July 18, 2013.

Inciweb Incident Information System. Mountain Fire. (2013). Accessed July 18, 2013.

NASA. Mountain Fire. Accessed July 18, 2013.

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