Climate Change Makes Drought Recovery Tougher in Western U.S.

Californians rejoiced this week when big drops of water started falling from the sky for the first time in any measurable way since the spring, an annual soaking that heralds the start of the rainy season following some of the hottest and driest months on record.

But as the rain was beginning to fall on Tuesday night, Gov. Gavin Newsom did a curious thing: He issued a statewide drought emergency and gave regulators permission to enact mandatory statewide water restrictions if they choose.

Southern California Wildfire Almost Fully Contained, Residents Go Home

Residents who fled the Alisal Fire west of Santa Barbara have been allowed to return home.

All evacuation orders and warnings were canceled Sunday afternoon.

The fire was 87% contained Monday morning and its size was holding at about 27 square miles.

The fire erupted in the Santa Ynez Mountains during high winds on Oct. 11. The cause remains under investigation.

La Nina Arrives, Threatening More Droughts, Storms and Supply Disruptions

A weather-roiling La Nina appears to have emerged across the equatorial Pacific, setting the stage for worsening droughts in California and South America, frigid winters in parts of the U.S. and Japan and greater risks for the world’s already strained energy and food supplies.

The phenomenon—which begins when the atmosphere reacts to a cooler patch of water over the Pacific Ocean—will likely last through at least February, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Thursday. There is a 57% chance it be a moderate event, like the one that started last year, the center said. While scientists may need months to confirm whether La Nina has definitely returned, all the signs are indicating it’s here.

Surging California Winds Spark New Wildfires, Power Outages

Blustery winds still surged through California on Tuesday after downing trees, fanning wildfires and shutting off power to about 21,000 customers in northern and central regions.

Red flag warnings of dangerous fire conditions continued in mountains, valleys, canyons and deserts because of dry, windy weather. Winds of 25 mph with gusts up to 70 mph into early Tuesday evening.

Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to about 21,000 customers in 20 central and northern California counties to reduce the risk that power lines could be toppled, sparking wildfires.

California Encourages Prescribed Burns to Counter Wildfires

California is encouraging more use of fire to fight fire, such as when deliberately set burns were recently used to protect giant sequoias from a raging wildfire.

But sometimes what are known as prescribed fires themselves spread out of control, causing their own extensive damage.

A bill that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Wednesday adds legal protections for private landowners and those who manage the blazes by raising the legal standard for seeking wildfire suppression costs from simple negligence to gross negligence.

Such costs can include not only fighting the fire, but related rescues and investigations.

Suspected Arson Wildfire Forces Evacuations in Northern California

Thousands of people were under evacuation orders Friday and many others were on notice to be ready to flee as a destructive wildfire raged in a drought-stricken forest in California’s far north.

A woman suspected of starting the Fawn Fire was under arrest, authorities said.

The fire in the Mountain Gate area north of the city of Redding covered more than 9 square miles and was 10% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.

PG&E: Power Shutoff Protocol May Avert Dixie-Like Fires in California

PG&E Corp. told a judge it has put into place new safety measures that would have resulted in power being cut to a utility line suspected of sparking the second-largest wildfire in California history.

The California utility giant said it changed safety settings on its equipment so electricity can be shut off more quickly in the case of a disturbance or fault on certain lines located in high-fire risk areas, according to a court filing submitted Friday. The move was made after the start of the Dixie Fire in July to help reduce the threat of major wildfires in California in light of the extreme drought conditions and dry vegetation, PG&E said.

‘The Risk is Here in Coming Weeks’ for Southern California, Says Fire Weather Expert

Several massive blazes have plagued Northern California this year, and now it could be Southern California’s turn.

The Dixie and Caldor fires continue to do damage in Northern California, putting the state at more than 2.2 million acres burned this year, according to CalFire. The Caldor Fire is at 219,267 acres and 68% contained, and the Dixie fire has burned 960,470 acres and is 75% contained.

The state’s wildfire season has been bad enough that California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara issued notices to insurers alerting them to cease non-renewals and cancellations of insurance coverage for communities with wildfire emergencies.

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