'Risk is real now': Climate expert says California may see more unusual winter wildfires

"Our fires are extending all the way through December and then into January. So it's not really accurate to call it a fire season"
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Colorado Fire burning between Carmel and Big Sur is giving a climate expert and CAL FIRE insight into what's to come.

"It's extremely unusual. We had an unusual combination of a long stretch of dry weather in January combined with an off-shore wind event that was pretty substantial," said Michael Wara, Director of the Climate and Policy program at Stanford University.

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Now, should we expect wildfires like this one in January?

"I think it's more likely. We are going to see more of them. In the old days this would've been an incredible unusual event. Maybe a once in a 50-year event, but these days is going to be more common and we are going to see it once every couple years," said Wara and added, "Californians need to be aware of the weather in a different way than they used to be. The risk is real now."

Instead of categorizing the summer months as the beginning of fire season, CAL FIRE is now preparing for a fire year.

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"We are towards the end of January. 10-15 years ago we use to call it the California fire season where we might get fires say in July that would last through maybe September or October. So, it was just a few months. Now our fires are extending all the way through December and then into January. So it's not really accurate to call it a fire season. CAL FIRE is trying to get away from calling it a fire season because that doesn't make sense anymore. It's really now more of a fire year," said Cecile Juliette, CAL FIRE public information officer.

As CAL FIRE units gear up for the rest of the year they are also noticing the California coastal regions are no longer off limits for wildfires.

The humidity these areas normally have can't be expected anymore.

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High winds caused chaos across the Bay Area Saturday, downing dozens of trees and knocking power out to thousands.



"There should be that heavy marine coastal fog influence that usually brings the humidity levels up overnight. That didn't happen last night. The humidity levels did not recover and it stayed very dry," said Juliette.

Michael Wara believes fire prevention strategies will be key moving forward.

"We need to allow some fires to burn when it's safe to do so. When the weather conditions are not extreme. So essentially pick the time and place to battle. As oppose to letting nature choose," said Wara.

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