CALIFORNIA — After two straight years in which California experienced some of the worst wildfires in state history, experts were bracing for the disaster in 2023 before the calendar year even started.

The outlook grew increasingly grim at the start of the year, when the Golden State had the driest start to a year since the late 19th century.

Between January and April, the Golden State recorded just 3.25 inches of rain, a quarter of what’s typically expected, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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“The dice are loaded for a lot of big fires across the West,” UCLA climate scientist Park Williams told The Los Angeles Times in an early May interview.

“And the reason for that is simple: The vast majority of the western U.S. is in pretty serious drought.”

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California didn’t escape fire season completely unscathed, but the grim forecasts from earlier this year of another catastrophic year of wildfires never materialized.

According to Cal Fire, 7,592 wildfires burned 362,271 acres in 2022, resulting in nine fatalities, 772 structures destroyed and another 104 structures damaged. Those numbers reflect a steep drop from the two previous years, in which wildfires torched a combined 6,873,765 acres, according to Cal Fire.

California wildfires burned less than a half million acres in 2022 for the first time since 2019 and the second since 277,285 since 2011 (228,599 acres).

Summer rain, milder weather and improved forest management are among the factors cited by experts for the reduction of wildfires this year.

Others offered a less scientific explanation.

“It’s really just that we got lucky,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, University of California Cooperative Extension fire expert, according to a New York Times report.

Williams, the UCLA climate scientist, offered a similar assessment in a subsequent LA Times interview, noting that two of the state’s biggest blazes of 2022, the McKinney (Siskiyou County) and Fairview (Riverside County) were largely extinguished by rainstorms.

“Precipitation was coming right at the time when it was most needed,” Williams told The LAT.

“Stuff was getting so dried out by these heat waves, and then at kind of like peak dryness, suddenly the skies opened up and soaked everything down, and it happened repeatedly.”

The Mosquito fire (El Dorado and Placer counties), California’s most destructive blaze of 2022, torched 76,788 acres, and the McKinney and Mountain (Siskiyou County) fires burned 60,138 and 13,440 acres.

But those were the only three California fires that burned more than 10,000 acres in 2022, compared to 13 last year and 20 in 2020.

BY THE NUMBERS

California’s largest fires of 2022:

Mosquito

  • When: September-October
  • Counties involved: El Dorado, Placer
  • Total acreage burned: 76,788

McKinney

  • When: July 2022
  • Counties involved: Siskiyou
  • Total acreage burned: 60,138

Mountain

  • When: September
  • Counties involved: Siskiyou
  • Total acreage burned: 13,440

Lost Lake

  • When: May-June
  • Counties involved: Riverside
  • Total acreage burned: 5,856

Barnes

  • When: Sept. – Oct.
  • Counties involved: Modoc
  • Total acreage burned: 5,843

Route

  • When: Aug. – Sept.
  • Counties involved: Los Angeles
  • Total acreage burned: 5,208

Washburn

  • When: Sept. 2022
  • Counties involved: Mariposa
  • Total acreage burned: 4,886

Electra

  • When: July
  • Counties involved: Amador, Calaveras
  • Total acreage burned: 4,478

Border 32

  • When: Aug. – Sept.
  • Counties involved: San Diego
  • Total acreage burned: 4,456

Airport

  • When: Feb.
  • Counties involved: Inyo
  • Total acreage burned: 4,136

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