As California’s water season approaches its end, the prospect of another severe wildfire season looms large for the US’s most populous state.
Although there could still be some rainfall in the next couple of months, a significant deficit leaves the entire state in drought conditions. ‘Exceptional’ or ‘extreme’ drought covers much of northern, central and southwestern regions.
Snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains stands at just 18 percent of the average – a worrying figure as the state relies on snow melt for 30 percent of its drinking water. This source also runs hydroelectric power plants which provide 15 percent of the state’s electricity supplies.
Until the return of the autumn and winter rains, California is likely to be facing its worst drought since 1975-1977. Since that time the state’s population has grown from 20 million to 38 million. The demand for water from domestic consumers, agriculture and industry, particularly hydraulic fracturing, has greatly increased.
Experts fear that the coming months could see the worst wildfire season on record and the federal government is anticipating an overspend on firefighting of some $470 million.
The US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have budgeted $1.4 billion but the drought and predicted high temperatures in coming weeks are expected to revise predicted expenditure to $1.87 billion.
California is not alone in its predicament. Fire risks are expected to remain high throughout May in other drought-stricken states, including Arizona, New Mexico and Alaska.
The National Interagency Fire Centre predicts that fire hazards will also intensify across Nevada and Oregon during June.
Meanwhile, a wildfire north of Oklahoma City, continues to burn, fuelled by high winds and rising temperatures, The blaze is estimated to have burned around 15 square kilometres near the town of Guthrie.