SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Forecasters are predicting a cooling trend and possible rain for the weekend, with possible snow in the mountains, bringing a small measure of much-needed moisture to an already parched Central Coast.
But that weather will not last long, says Rick Canepa, a meteorologist with Monterey Bay Weather Service. The warm, dry weather that typically besets the region this time of year will return, he says.
That is a concern for fire officials as they look toward another dry summer in what is the driest year in the past 128 years, according to drought.gov.
CalFire Chief Nate Armstrong, who commands CalFire’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz County Unit, says his concern as summer approaches is that residents will be lulled into a false sense of security with the recent rains.
Statewide, Armstrong says that there have been a higher number of fire ignitions than this time last year, but those have affected less acreage, thanks to the moisture.
The problem, he says, is that the rain is not enough to stop the effects of the long-term drought. Recent measurements of living vegetation show moisture levels at a historic low.
“It only takes a day or two of warm temperatures and a nice little wind, and that wicks all that moisture right out of the vegetation,” he said. “We just haven’t had enough to beat the long-term drought. It’s going to take a couple of years to come back from that.”
To help residents prepare for the dry season, firefighters are conducting “defensible space” inspections on homes in the unincorporated parts of the county.
In creating a defensible space, residents clear brush and other combustible material from 100 feet around their homes.
“The thing we’re always trying to stress to folks is, we aren’t going to be able to stop every single fire from starting, so we’re really trying to advocate that people do everything they can do to make sure they’re ready when the next fire does occur,” he said.
These inspections are meant to be informational to help residents keep their homes safe in the event of a wildfire
Armstrong, who has been at the station since 2017, became the chief in November.
He began his career in 1999 in southern California working for two small departments and the U.S. Forest Service. He joined CalFire in 2006, working for about a decade in Monterey, where he reached the rank of Battalion Chief.
He started in Santa Cruz County overseeing the Felton Battalion, covering the northern part of the county. He became Deputy Chief with CalFire in 2020.
Other pointers can be found at readyforwildfire.org, zonehaven.com and www.firesafesantacruz.org. Residents can also sign up to get alerts on their phones by visiting scr911.org.