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Chance of thunderstorms leads to fire concerns for higher elevations

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION) Meteorologists across the area are forecasting the likelihood of dry thunderstorms late this weekend.

While this should not be a concern for coastal areas that have been receiving considerable cloud cover and even a bit of moisture due to the marine layer, higher elevations may not be as lucky.

According to Matthew Mehle, Incident Meteorologist at the San Francisco Bay Area National Weather Service, the notorious CZU wildfires of 2020 were spurred by storms similar to those expected late this weekend. Mehle says they both have a tropical connection. However, there are some differences as well.

"The difference now is we're not dealing with extreme heat with dry conditions like we were in 2020," said Mehle. "We're only dealing with very dry fuels, so the grasses and the shrubs and the brush are still very dry above two thousand feet."

Dry materials can be a major concern when it comes to the onset of wildfires. For this reason, Assistant Fire Chief John Martinez of the San Mateo and Santa Cruz units of Cal Fire and his team are ensuring that they have all of the proper resources in place for this weekend. "We have a number of engines up at the fires in the northern part of the state right now, so we are going to be supplementing our resources here within the counties with local government engines," said Martinez. "So we will be augmenting our staffing with additional engines from the surrounding areas."

Mehle says it is essential to have a plan in place if you live in one of the places affected by the Fire Weather Watch, which is in effect from Sunday (7/18) morning to Monday (7/19). In addition, he warns not to be fooled by cool, foggy conditions as lightning can penetrate the clouds.

The entire nation is currently at Fire Preparedness Level 5. The state of California has not reached FPL 5 this early in the season in an entire decade.

Both Mehle and Martinez strongly encourage people to keep a close eye on local weather forecasts this weekend as things could change rapidly.

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Courtney Aitken

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