With wildfire season approaching, California is experiencing another period of exceptional drought. Napa Valley Fire Service Chief Ben Nichols says conditions are now worse than they were a year ago. And then, in August and September 2020, California experienced the worst fires in modern history.
“This spring, we had nearly 1,000 fires across the state compared to an average year,” Nichols said. “The number of places where fires start is rising.”
Tension over what will happen in the coming weeks has not escaped President Biden. It was announced today that the California Fire Service will gain more. “We have been left behind and neglected to fight the fires,” Biden said. Firefighters who work only during the dry season will be given a permanent position.
the black Mountain
“Look, this hill is all black. We saw the fire rising over the mountains, it was glowing all night long.” From Sheldon Richards Winery, you look on three sides into the valley above the city of Napa, an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Several vineyards around Richards caught fire last year. “The fire broke out on three sides,” he points out from his balcony. “We were very lucky.”
Richards says fires have become a part of life here. In four of the past five summers, fires have broken out around his home and work. “After a six-year drought, between 2009 and 2015, withered twigs piled up in the forest, and it became ablaze. It only took a spark and the trees turned into giant torches, and constant droughts and winds do the rest.”
Dozens of Richards’ neighbors have lost their homes with all the memories they had. “This is the worst,” says the vine grower. “Besides, everyone loses their crop, and so am I,” he says. Its vines are still present, but due to smoke damage, the 2020 grapes are no longer usable. He added that “the vineyards that were burned also lost the harvest of previous years, which was still in the barrels.”
On the road with Fire Chief Ben Nichols, it looks like the vineyards can also prepare for the weeks ahead. Usually, the dry season and high fire risk lasts from June to September. “But in recent years, it starts as early as April and lasts until November, or sometimes even January,” Nichols says. His men got tested this spring, and the real work has yet to begin.
Climate scientists attribute extreme drought, heat and winds to global warming. Fire Chief Ben Nichols says this is a situation they don’t usually see:
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