Drought and Wind Fueling the 2013 California Wildfires


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A satellite photo shows the extent of the Summit Fire. Photo: NASA / CC by 2.0

Drought Conditions Playing a Role in the California Fires

What’s fueling the California fires? This year has been particularly dry, with moisture levels similar to those typically seen in August. The current spell of warm, dry weather is adding to the likelihood that fires that start will be hard to contain, as temperatures are already approaching record levels in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Dry brush and timber slash turn the landscape into kindling, making it easier for human or lightning-started fires to spread.

What are the Santa Ana Winds?

Wind also plays a role in the movement of these fires, and in the case of the Spring Fire, the fire’s movement is due in part to the Santa Ana winds, winds that blow from through the canyons to the coast. This winds tend to gust the most through the winter into the spring, subsiding a little in the summer.


Warm, dry air gets trapped between the Rockies and the Sierras and Southern California coastal mountains. When the pressure gets too high, the winds move through the mountain passes, pushing air out toward the ocean. Fires that are along the winds’ path get fanned as well as the winds push them along.

California Wildfire Season: Looking Ahead

Dampening of both the winds and the weather would help reduce the fires, but unfortunately neither is in the forecast. Firefighters in California are looking ahead to a hot, dry, and challenging beginning of May.


ChicoER. The Panther Fire Explodes t0 7000 Acres. (2013). Accessed May 3, 2013.

The Malibu Times. Springs Fire Reaches 10K Acres, Burns Towards Malibu. (2013). Accessed May 3, 2013.

Sauk Valley. 6500 acres burned, Santa Ana Winds Winning. (2013). Accessed May 3, 2013.

US News. Monster California Wildfire Reaches Ocean, Pushes Towards Malibu. (2013). Accessed May 3, 2013.

Google. California Fire Map. (2013). (2013). Accessed May 3, 2013.

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