2003 Burn Kept California Firestorm From Being Much Worse

CalFire officials released a report this week.


SAN DIEGO --

Last week's firestorms would likely have been much worse if the Cedar and Paradise fires hadn't thinned fuel three years ago, fire officials said.

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Officials with CalFire, the state fire agency coordinating the effort to control the fires, made that observation in a comparison of the 2003 and 2007 firestorms released Monday.

The report noted several similarities between the 2003 Cedar Fire and the 2007 Witch Fire, but it also pointed out some important differences.

While both firestorms were driven by Santa Ana winds, the winds were more powerful and lasted longer for the Witch Fire, officials said. The westerly winds were twice as strong in the case of the Witch Fire, and they lasted for three days, as compared with a one-day Santa Ana condition in the case of the Cedar Fire, according to the CalFire analysis.

Another factor in the spread and intensity of the fires was the fuel in the fires' paths. The Cedar Fire burned mostly heavy brush and timber, according to the CalFire analysis. Most of the area burned had not been thinned by wildfire in many years.

The Witch Fire burned heavy brush, oak woodland grasslands and 4-year-old regrowth on fire scars left by the 2003 fires.

The difference in fuel is one of the factors that prevented the Witch Fire from being worse than it was, the report said. The fire burned about 200,000 acres. It probably would have burned at least 100,000 acres more if not for the fire scars of the Paradise and Cedar Fires. The fire burned less intensely and slowed some when it reached the areas burned in 2003, officials said.