(Want to get California Today by email? Here’s the sign-up.)
The year-end fires sweeping Southern California this week have raised a worrisome question: Where is the rain?
The rainy season typically starts in October and lasts through April, with the heaviest rain coming from December through March. Precipitation has been at or above-normal in Northern California, but there has been little rain in the south.
Since Oct. 1 just 2.3 inches have fallen in Los Angeles, or 5 percent of average. In San Diego, it’s 1.5 inches, or 1 percent of average, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
That lack of precipitation is one reason fires have exploded across Southern California this week, officials said. Thousands of people were evacuated across Los Angeles county and in the path of another fire in Ventura.
It is too soon to ring any drought alarm bells. Still, the memory of the long, punishing drought that ended last year — the worst in this state’s modern history — remains fresh. And a report earlier this week by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said that atmospheric conditions caused by global warming, including the creation of a resilient, water-blocking atmospheric ridge, means even less rain in the future.
“I still have a drought hangover so I wake up worried about drought,” said Felicia Marcus, the head of the state Water Resources Control Board.
Southern California is dealing with the same collection of forces that accounted for the intensity of the wine country fires: an unusually wet winter led to extensive brush growth and a record-hot October baked the growth into kindling. The final ingredient was the heavy Santa Ana winds whipping across Southern California.
“It was sort of a trifecta for Napa and Sonoma,” Ms. Marcus said. “And now you are seeing that recreated in Southern California.”
(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on news sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)
Fire Coverage From Across the State
• A new normal for California. “This year’s dreadful fire season may be just the beginning,” says the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle. [San Francisco Chronicle]
• The Wine Country fire two months ago was plagued by problems as the authorities struggled to alert people to the imminent danger. Here’s how they did in Ventura County. Evacuees had minutes to spare. [Buzzfeed]
• “A higher level of danger.” The burst of fires spread out across the region is putting a new strain on fire departments already struggling with longer fire seasons and bigger and hotter blazes. [Los Angeles Daily News]
• How do you make sure your home and family are ready for an emergency evacuation to flee a wildfire? The top 10 things firefighters tell their families. [San Diego Union-Tribune]
• An interactive map shows how the fires in Southern California spread so fast and so wide. [San Francisco Chronicle]
• Celebrities were once banned from living in Bel-Air. But this exclusive Los Angeles enclave swept by fire has become the neighborhood of choice for celebrities seeking privacy (think Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Rupert Murdoch). [Los Angeles Times]
• Arriving at work at a Santa Clarita office park — only to be sent home. The fires are disrupting companies, schools and freeways across the region. [Orange County Register]
• Confidence — or at least hope — among homeowners in Ventura that insurance will cover the cost of homes destroyed by the Thomas Fire. [Ventura County Star]
• This is the right question to ask if you were anywhere around Los Angeles on Wednesday: Time for a smoke mask? [San Francisco Chronicle]
• Insurance claims for the wine country wildfires have hit $9 billion. [Associated Press]
And in other news:
• California’s two United States senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, were among the first Democrats to call for the resignation of Senator Al Franken as sexual harassment complaints piled up against him. [The New York Times]
• Getting ready for legal recreational marijuana: The Los Angeles City Council passed regulations settings down where and how it will be sold in the city next year. [Los Angeles Times]
•Could the sex scandals in California State Legislature put an end to the Democratic supermajorities in the Senate and Assembly? The longtime California observer Dan Walters says they certainly may. [CALmatters]
• The turmoil of “Transparent:” The Los Angeles-based series is in limbo as Amazon investigates sexual harassment charges against its star, Jeffrey Tambor. [New York Times]
And Finally …
The New York Times asked readers to share with California Today their experiences fleeing the fires in Los Angeles and Ventura. Here, lightly edited, are some of the responses.
“My husband and I along with our 18-month-old fled our house Wednesday morning on Casiano Drive. As we left, embers were falling from the sky and helicopters were flying low overhead spraying water. A completely surreal experience.
We just bought our house in April. It’s our dream home. And as I type this, a house right next door to our neighbor’s is in flames. I’m not sure if our house will make it, but thankfully we are all safe.”
— Lisa Goh
“I got the emergency alert on my phone of fire at 5 something in the morning. I saw an alert of a six-acre fire near Mulholland Drive, east of the 405. That’s just a couple of miles away. By 6:15 the fire had reached 50 acres and I was already packing bags and calling my husband who is on business in Boston. By 6:30 I knew for sure we had to get out of there. I told our two nannies to wake up immediately and get their bags packed as well as the kids bags packed. I told them to pack as if we would never see this house again.”
— Gwen Gottlieb
“After dinner in Westlake, we were driving home down the grade and saw the red glow of the fires. It was awful and we just prayed for all in its path. Thirty minutes later we arrived in Ventura and the streetlights flickered. Then the entire city went dark. At that point we figured it was from the fires and headed inside. Not 20 minutes later I looked out my bedroom window and saw the red glow extremely close.
I told my daughters we need to start gathering items as it must be spreading. Within minutes I saw the fire crest our hill and it was panic. We literally had minutes to get anything we could grab along with our pets (including our one week old kittens and a nursing Mom) and leave.
We headed to Oxnard Shores to my fiancé’s parents’ home. At that point the entire mountain range of Ventura was ablaze.”
— Stephanie Jensen
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.