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Insufficient Rain Has California Fires Burning Hotter Than Normal, UC Davis Professor Says

YUBA COUNTY (CBS13) – In Northern California, wildfires are burning hot and fast.

"At this point in the fire season, we are well ahead of acres burned than we were at this time last year," said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jim Hudson.

Hudson says boots on the ground are crucial for a wildland blaze and so are planes and helicopters.

"Our air attack is what flies above, it is our eyes in the sky and controls the air space," he said.

Lately, in some cases, crews haven't been able to use that airspace. An unauthorized drone grounded planes during the Dixie Fire last week.

"If people are flying drones, we basically have to leave the area," Hudson said.

And thick smoke from the Tamarack Fire near South Lake Tahoe prevented water drops as well. But the biggest enemy of all has been the high heat and dry lands.

UC Davis Climate Modeling Professor Paul Ullrich says without sufficient rain, fires are burning much hotter than normal.

"There's not a lot of moisture left in the ground," Ullrich said. "It leaves the forest and any vegetation that's on the ground in a state where a single spark can easily set off an inferno."

In some cases, it sets off severe weather patterns.

"Dry lightning is when you have a storm which doesn't have accompanying precipitation," Ullrich said.

Lack of rain has made the ground dry, which means the cycle of water evaporating from the ground up into the clouds, then releasing droplets, isn't happening—but the storms still do happen.

So what would help slow the fires down? Ullrich says rain and more aircraft would be impactful.

"It would be a game-changer to have those kinds of aircraft up in the air," he said. "Even just having rain to moisten the soils a bit."

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