After months of tension prompted by a historically destructive wildfire season, officials representing the National Weather Service and Cal Fire concluded a recent meeting on an unusually hopeful note: Northern California’s wildfire season appears to be winding down as wetter weather descends on the region.
On the heels of last week’s scattered showers — the first widespread rains since April — another cold front is expected to sweep the Bay Area on Tuesday, bringing bouts of rain to the region throughout the week, meteorologists said.
It may spell the soggy end of a deadly, record-shattering wildfire season that began with a bang in late August, after a lightning siege ignited clusters of fast-moving blazes. One, the August Complex, became the first wildfire in state history to surpass an astonishing 1 million acres, and was fully contained Sunday.
But unlike the wildfire season’s dramatic start, the end feels “more like a slow-moving elephant,” said NWS meteorologist Ryan Walbrun, who serves as a liaison to Cal Fire.
“The bottom line is that conditions are looking favorable,” Walbrun said of the coming Northern California rains.
The weather service doesn’t issue declarations marking the end of wildfire conditions — that responsibility lies with Cal Fire — but the predicted precipitation could douse isolated areas with as much as 2 inches of rain, a positive sign, meteorologists said. Coastal Sonoma County and the Santa Cruz Mountains are expected to receive the most rain, while the city of San Francisco could see up to half an inch.
As of Monday, the agency had not authorized any of its 21 units around the state to begin winter preparations, which would signal the end of fire watch. Heightened staffing and equipment levels typically remain in place until early December. This year likely will be no exception, officials said, especially after a series of monster conflagrations that engulfed more than 4 million acres statewide — more than double the record.
Bans on campfires and debris burning remained in place throughout the Bay Area, but “significant rainfall could change that,” said Cal Fire spokeswoman Christine McMorrow. Officials have lifted burn bans in some parts of Northern California, including Shasta County, where a spate of small, wind-whipped wildfires broke out late last month.
As the risk of new fires abates in Northern California, officials turned their attention to the possibility of mudslides triggered by heavy rains on soils hardened by recent wildfires. This week’s downpours do not appear likely to dislodge debris on fire scars, but officials are urging those who live near recent wildfires to remain vigilant.
Temperatures around the Bay Area are expected to fall as rain clouds move in Tuesday morning. Santa Rosa and the North Bay valleys will struggle to break 60 degrees, meteorologists said, while San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley will remain in the mid-60s. Concord, Livermore and Byron are predicted to see temperatures in the mid- to high 60s.