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Has California’s Fire Season Begun?

The Golden fire burned 25 acres south of Camptonville on Friday.Credit…Elias Funez/The Union, via Associated Press

More than half a dozen wildfires broke out across California in a 48-hour span late last week, an unsettling picture of what’s to come as temperatures warm and drought conditions worsen this summer.

On Thursday afternoon, a blaze erupted in Kern County and grew to nearly 700 acres. Another in Tahoe National Forest forced the closure of a nearby highway. A brush fire north of Vacaville prompted evacuation orders Saturday in Solano County.

As you probably know, California’s fire season traditionally peaks between July and October — and it’s only May. Yet weather officials are warning there could be even more dangerous fires before spring is over.

Today and tomorrow, gusty winds, low humidity and unseasonably hot temperatures are creating high fire risk across an inland swath of California between Redding and Sacramento. “Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” said the National Weather Service office in Sacramento.

The transformation of California’s summer and autumn fire season into a year-round phenomenon is a story that’s probably become familiar. Typically, it took months of dry, warm weather after the state’s winter rains for vegetation to become parched enough to fuel massive fires. But increasingly warm temperatures and a shorter wet season are leaving the land primed for destructive fires earlier in the year.

In January, typically one of California’s wettest months, a wildfire swept through Big Sur — an event the National Weather Service called “surreal.”

This month, a blaze erupted in Laguna Niguel and destroyed 20 homes, another surprise given that humid and coastal conditions typically don’t allow fires to explode so quickly.

A wildfire in Laguna Niguel in Orange County this month.Credit…Marcio J. Sanchez/Associated Press

Though California saw record rainfall in the final three months of 2021, that was followed by an unusually dry January through March. California went from 88 percent of its land being considered in extreme or exceptional drought down to 1 percent immediately after the heavy rains, but it is now back up to 60 percent, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

This is worrisome if the coming summer turns out to be warmer than average, as is expected. Similar conditions over the past few years have set the stage for some of the state’s most destructive fire seasons. Four out of the five largest fires in modern California history occurred in the past two years, according to CalFire.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that while California’s coastal areas might not see extreme temperatures this summer, inland regions, including the Central Valley foothills and Sierra Nevada, could experience record or near-record heat.

“That, of course, has major implications for wildfire risk, since peak summer burning conditions usually occur precisely in those regions expected to be most anomalously hot and dry,” Swain recently wrote.

For more:

  • Here are the wildfire risks to homes across the lower 48 states.

  • Track wildfires in the West.

  • Why climate change makes it harder to fight fire with fire.


Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco has repeatedly confronted Speaker Nancy Pelosi over abortion.Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The rest of the news

  • Barred from communion: An ultraconservative archbishop in San Francisco said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, would not be permitted to receive communion because of her support for abortion rights.

  • June primary: Despite criticism, California’s current superintendent of public instruction, Tony Thurmond, could use his political advantages to easily win re-election next month, The Los Angeles Times reports.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • San Bernardino shooting: Two people were arrested after one man was killed and eight others were wounded in a shooting at a hookah lounge, The Associated Press reports.

  • Garcetti’s ambassadorship: The parents of Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles hired a lobbyist to push forward their son’s stalled nomination for ambassador to India, Politico reports.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

  • Methane leak: A “pinhole-sized” gas leak went undetected at a pair of idle oil wells near a residential neighborhood in Bakersfield, The Los Angeles Times reports.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Redwood grove: After being damaged by an influx of visitors, the Grove of Titans in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park near Crescent City has reopened with a new elevated boardwalk, KTLA reports.

  • Berkeley mask rules: Berkeley Unified School District is reinstating an indoor mask mandate starting today, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • San Francisco shooting: The authorities were investigating the deaths of two men after the police responded to a report of an assault and officers fired shots, The Associated Press reports.

  • Rodeo escape: Several people were injured when a bull jumped a fence and escaped during a rodeo in Redding, The Associated Press reports.


Credit…Chris Simpson for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Sophia Pappas.

What we’re eating

A salmon bowl that highlights the old saying: What grows together goes together.


Credit…Bipul Haldar/Alamy

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Mike Harrigan, who recommends a trail that passes through San Jose, where he lives:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


Tell us

What do you want to know about California’s June primary election? Email us your questions at CAToday@nytimes.com.


Msituni, a giraffe calf born with an unusual disorder that caused her legs to bend the wrong way, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, north of San Diego.Credit…Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, via Associated Press

And before you go, some good news

On Feb. 1, a baby giraffe was born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The calf, named Msituni, was a healthy 100 pounds and 5 foot 10 inches tall, with one problem: Her front limbs bent the wrong way.

Safari park staff workers worried the newborn would die if they didn’t immediately correct the condition, which could prevent her from nursing and walking around the habitat. So they called in an orthotist to help fit Msituni for leg braces.

The clinician, Ara Mirzaian, had never had an animal patient before, he told The Associated Press. But the braces he helped design for Msituni eventually allowed her to learn to walk normally.

“It was the coolest thing to see an animal like that walk in a brace,” he said. “It feels good to know we saved a giraffe’s life.”


Thanks for starting your week with me. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Word before personality or peas (5 letters).

Jack Kramer and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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