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Even With Storms Bringing Rain And Snow, California Fire Season Isn't Over

Noah Berger/AP via NPR
A helicopter drops water on the Cave Fire burning in the Los Padres National Forest above Santa Barbara, Calif., on Tuesday.

A major storm system is sweeping across much of California heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, but Cal Fire cautions it won’t mark the end of fire season.

“One storm is not the cure-all for what we’ve had to deal with in the past in the state,” said Scott McLean, deputy chief with Cal Fire. “The vegetation is definitely going to draw up this moisture, but we’ll see what next week brings. It could come with winds which could dry things back out.”

The agency traditionally releases seasonal firefighters in the winter months, which often bring more precipitation. But McLean says the state isn’t there yet, as fires can still ignite into December.

“In 2017, we had the Thomas Fire in December,” he said. “Look what’s happening ... right now down south with the Cave Fire in the Las Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County.”

The Cave Fire has burned more than 3,800 acres of the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains, with most of that acreage was scorched in its first hours Monday.

Most of the thousands of people who fled the fire were told they could return home Tuesday as the approaching storm offered hope the flames would be doused.

Fire commanders described a fierce battle that saved homes as the blaze consumed brush in an area that hadn't burned in 29 years.

"We've had winds move up slope, down slope, across the slope," Santa Barbara County fire Battalion Chief Anthony Stornetta said.

Fire officials said as much as an inch of rain was expected to hit the area by midnight, though the possible arrival of rain also posed hazards, ranging from shifting winds to debris flows from steep mountainsides.

In January 2018, a downpour on burned slopes just east of Santa Barbara unleashed massive debris flows that devastated Montecito, killing 23 people and destroying homes.

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