Record dry fuel triggers high fire danger in Bay Area mountains

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The National Weather Service reported Sunday that the fuel load in the Santa Cruz and Diablo mountains hit a record high for this time of the year.

Measured by what's known as the Energy Release Component (ERC) the NWS says it "takes into account both live and dead fuels" to create a drought indicator for fuels.

The ERC hit a record high on May 8.

RELATED: Bay Area jumps to 'extreme' drought category

Combined with an early Red Flag Warning, San Jose State University fire researcher Craig Clements said it will be a unique year for fire conditions.

"We rarely have red flag warnings this early in the season," he said. "You couple that with really dry fuels because of drought, then you have a recipe you would normally see in summer, but now we have it in May."

His team at SJSU's Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center have set up a lab to monitor fire conditions to help predict ignitions and smoke patterns.

Despite the dry brush and red flag warning, Clements says his lab is optimistic about a merciful fire season, barring any unpredictable weather events like the lightning storm that sparked last summer's CZU and SCU complexes.

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"We're ramping up with our research tools. Hopefully it's not going to be as bad as people are saying. That's what we are thinking," said Clements.

That's also assuming humans are vigilant and don't spark fires in high fire danger areas.

"A lot of our parks will be shut down. We might not be able to use camp fires like we're used to," predicted Clements. "I think we need to be prepared for a summer where we have a lot of restrictions because fuel is so dry."

A 45-acre fire in Benicia on Saturday may have been sparked by a resident mowing his lawn, something firefighters caution against during a Red Flag Warning.

There are alternatives, like the company Goats R Us, which rents out herds of goats to clear brush on hillsides and large fields where it's dangerous or impractical to use mowers.

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