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Rain and snow are heading to areas damaged by California wildfires

A parched strip in central California is expected to receive welcome rounds of rain and snow over the next week, but the forecast raises concerns about flash flooding and landslides in areas that have suffered a fire season treacherous forest last year.

Starting Friday, weather systems will bring a mixture of rain and snow to parts of northern and central California through the middle of next week, with much of the snow expected in the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada. Between 5 and 10 inches of precipitation is expected, although some areas could receive as much as 15 inches over the next two weeks, said Greg Carbin, chief forecasting operations manager at the National Weather Service’s Weather Forecast Center. .

“These areas have been unusually dry,” Carbin said. “In fact, much of California has had much below normal precipitation and rainfall for many months which led to the dramatic wildfire activity that we have also seen.

A cluster of fires known as the LNU Lightning Complex spread across Napa County and surrounding areas starting in August, burning more than 360,000 acres. It was 100% contained in early October, but the charred ground it left behind is more sensitive to rainfall runoff, according to the National Weather Service.

“If you have too much rain in an area where vegetation has been burnt due to forest fires, it can cause a problem with debris flow, mudslides and flash floods,” Carbin said.

Mountainous and hilly terrain could be vulnerable to flash floods and landslides, especially where there are scars from burns – charred and barren areas scorched by forest fires. In 2018, at least 17 people died in landslides in Montecito, southern California, after a storm hit hills that had been stripped of vegetation from the Thomas Fire.

The weather systems affecting central California are not out of the ordinary, as the state receives the majority of its precipitation during the colder months, particularly the January through March period. But the forecast is remarkable for an area where precipitation and snowfall “have so far been below normal” in recent years, Carbin said. (According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, parts of central California and the Sierra Nevada region are currently experiencing extreme and severe drought.)

California’s 2020 ‘Year of Water’ – the 12-month period that ended September 30, 2020 – has been rather dry for the upstate region, the Department of Water Resources reported. of State.

The Sierra Nevada can receive between about 70 inches of precipitation and over 100 inches per year, Mr. Carbin said. According to the Western Regional Climate Center, the north central and north coast regions of the state received more than 50 inches of precipitation in 2017.

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California wildfires escalate, forcing thousands to flee

Two wildfires raged across southern California on Tuesday, nearly doubling in volume overnight and forcing hundreds more people to flee during what was the state’s worst fire season on record.

The fires in Orange County have put more than 90,000 people on emergency evacuation orders, many in the town of Irvine. Their homes are threatened by the Silverado fire, which has now burned down on 11,200 acres, and the Blue Ridge fire, which is approximately 8,000 acres in size.

About 700 firefighters have battled the fires, which so far have damaged only one house, but the area of ​​concern has widened as winds blew the fires to new areas, including towards Chino Hills, a city of about 84,000 people located on the corner of Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.

The Orange County Fire Authority, which is the lead agency for fighting the two fires, said it hopes the softening winds will slow the pace of the fires and allow firefighters to use planes to contain the blazes . Silverado Fire is only 5% contained and Blue Ridge Fire is completely unconfined.

On Monday, powerful gusts swept through the area at a speed of 130 km / h, making it more difficult for firefighters to contain the spread of the fires and for residents to evacuate. They also spread smoke in the area.

Two firefighters were seriously injured in the Silverado blaze and they were intubated Monday after receiving second and third degree burns to most of their bodies, said Brian Fennessy, the fire chief. The firefighters are 26 and 31 years old.

Investigators have not determined what started the fires, but on Monday, Southern California Edison filed its second wildland fire report this year, saying his equipment could have caused the Silverado fire. Last month, the utility filed a report saying its equipment was part of an investigation into the cause of the Bobcat fire, which burned more than 115,000 acres near Pasadena.

The 2020 fire season saw massive wildfires raging across California and other western states. Experts have linked the worsening fire season to climate change, as emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels have led to warmer and drier conditions.

Over five million acres burned across California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington state. In California alone, the fires have burned more than 4.1 million acres, destroyed 10,488 homes and other structures, and killed at least 31 people.