Dry and windy conditions signal peak wildfire season is ahead of schedule

A weekend red flag warning for parts of the North and East Bay Area has been extended through 6pm on Tuesday due to dry and breezy conditions, the National Weather Service reported.

Red flag warnings are unusual this early in the year, but because California is in a drought, and water levels are below average, the bigger fires Northern California routinely sees in the months of August and September could spark as early as July.

The extended red flag warning "means we expect more fires, we expect to keep our increased staffing on duty," Jonathan Cox, deputy fire chief with the San Mateo division of Cal Fire, said.

The extra hands for Cal Fire helped put out small brush fires over the weekend, and contain a fire burning across several hundred acres in Butte County, Cox said.

At San Jose State University, the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center operates one of the most advanced fire prediction systems in the country. Craig Clements, the center's director, and a professor at SJSU, said moisture levels are below average in the Bay Area, suggesting bigger fires may spark earlier than August.

SJSU Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center

"Californians on a whole should be aware that we are already in fire season," Clements said. "We're getting grass fires popping up already, you can see that the hills are already brown, right? It's usually in June when we see these conditions, so we're way ahead of schedule."

Clements forecasts peak fire season may arrive by July, potentially canceling summer camping trips if parks are forced to close.

For now, Cal Fire is asking the public to do their part to reduce the risk of wildfires, 95 percent of which are human-caused, according to Cox.

Cox cautions homeowners to not use mechanized equipment like lawnmowers or weed whackers to clear away brush when a red flag event is active, as those tools could add to the wildfire risk.

"In the immediacy what we're asking for is people to have a plan," Cox said. "To make sure that if they do have a fire that erupts in their neighborhoods, they have a plan to get out."