It’s wildfire season again in California and the West. Researchers have developed a new way to predict when vegetation dries to the point it is most vulnerable to large-scale fires in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. This year’s forecast says the highest-risk fire period will begin July 13?weeks earlier than usual.

Despite that, the new study also shows that unlike other areas of the western United States, global warming has not caused any apparent long-term trend toward early fire seasons in the Santa Monicas.

The scientists eventually hope to expand their unique fire-risk forecasting method to all of Southern California and beyond.

Researcher Philip Dennison says, “We developed a way to predict when the time of highest fire danger begins in the Santa Monica Mountains, based on the amount of spring precipitation. We estimate that this year, the highest fire danger will begin July 13.” He hopes that “in future years this method can be used to better plan for the start of high fire danger. Fire agencies could use this to help them plan where and when to put their people and equipment. Homeowners may find this useful for knowing when fire danger will be high so they can be better prepared to evacuate, clear brush from around their homes and watch for arsonists.”

Dennison says that researchers who conducted a 2006 study “found that fire season is starting earlier across the western United States, and they attributed it to earlier snowmelt which is caused by global warming.”

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