Strong Santa Ana winds bringing extreme wildfire risks this week – OCRegister

Strong Santa Ana winds bringing extreme wildfire risks this week - OCRegister
As dangerous fire conditions target California, Weather Service is rethinking its warning system
Strong winds are coming to Southern California and with them comes an extreme wildfire risk for much of the region.

Cal Fire is increasing staffing levels as the potential for a large, destructive fire is increasing with the incoming weather system and the National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for later this week.

Southern California Edison listed nearly 20,000 customers in Riverside County among the 106,000 customers under consideration for a public safety power shutoff across seven counties. The other counties include Inyo, Mono, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Ventura, Tulare and Kern counties. In Riverside County, the communities affected include North Palm Springs, Banning, Hemet, San Jacinto, Menifee, Whitewater, Bonnie Bell, Banning Pass, Cabazon, Owl, portions of Desert Hills Outlet Mall, Beaumonth, Banning, Gilman Hot Springs, Lakeview and Mons.

Video: Northern California Fire Weather Forecast

“You will definitely notice drier air moving in, depending on where you are,” said Lisa Phillips, a meteorologist with the NWS in Los Angeles. “Any area that tends to be more humid, you will notice that drying out immediately.”

California fire danger spikes with most powerful winds of the season

Come Thursday morning, Oct. 10, winds will be picking up, the red-flag warning begins in the early morning hours and continues through Friday evening, although officials say the region could get blustery weather Wednesday night.

Low humidity of 5% to 10% and strong, gusty Santa Ana winds are to blame for the elevated fire risk along coastal mountain slopes and inland valleys. East to northeast winds will reach speeds of 20 to 30 mph, with gusts of 35 to 50 mph, and isolated gusts of up to 60 mph.

The hot, dry Santa Ana winds send temperatures soaring and humidity levels dropping – the recipe for destructive wildfires. NWS meteorologists said they also expect the gusty conditions to bring warmer temperatures.

“Its the first Santa Ana event of the year, and its a moderate one, but with single-digit humidity there is a high potential for fast fire spreads if we do get that start,” weather service meteorologist Bruno Rodriguez in San Diego said on Monday.

Cal Fire officials said this “will likely be the strongest offshore wind event so far this season.”

On Tuesday, CalTrans said that if power is cut some traffic signals could just flash red or go out completely. if a light flashes or goes dark, drivers are reminded to come to a complete stop at all intersections before proceeding with caution.

Red flag fire weather warning issued for San Diego County

Strong winds have also been a concern for utility companies, whose equipment can be damaged or produce sparks in gusty conditions. Utilities across the state warned they could shut off power to hundreds of thousands in the coming days if winds start to threaten power lines.

By Tuesday afternoon, Pacific Gas & Electric said it plans to shut off power to nearly 800,000 across counties in the Bay Area and Northern California.

Pacific Gas and Electric said it could cut off power to a large swath of Northern California later this week to prevent its equipment from starting wildfires during hot, windy weather

Fire weather watch begins

Southern California Edison also said Tuesday just over 106,000 customers could see their power shut off. Those included customers in L.A., Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties, mostly in foothill or mountain areas.

The Santa Ana winds moving in bring in hot dry winds from mountain areas into low lying coastal plains, as cool, wet air gets sucked out over the ocean.

Meanwhile, Palm Springs firefighters responded to a small brush fire about 1 a.m. Monday in the Andreas Canyon neighborhood near East Palm Canyon Drive and Acanto Drive.

The effect of Santa Ana winds can be dramatic. Residents might feel humidity levels dropping from normal levels, around 50 percent, to less than 10 percent in as little as an hour, Phillips said.

This prompted Southern California Edison to expand the area that could have power cut as a fire-safety measure — affecting as many as 106,000 customers. 

And powerful wind gusts also can be problematic, NWS said. In LA County, it’s possible that there will be gusts as strong as 70 mph on Thursday, according to NWS. In Orange County and the Inland Empire, strong gusts will likely be near 50 mph.

In Northern California, PG&E says it could cut power to 30 counties Wednesday and Thursday due to hot weather and high winds. 

Thom Porter, Cal Fire’s director, said the increased staffing levels are an effort to be prepared as October and November has been a time when fire activity increases. Last year, the Woolsey fire and the deadly Camp fire — two of the most destructive fires in state history — started on the same day in November.

Wildfires move more quickly when grasses and brush have had months to dry out, providing plenty of fuel, Porter said in a statement on Tuesday. Santa Ana winds will make those conditions worse.

Kelley Gage, Director of Water Resources for the San Diego County Water Authority writes that seawater desalination is a tool for coastal communities to consider, and that each community needs to devise its own supply reliability portfolios to determine whether desalination makes sense. SDCWA doesnt have a policy position or a financial stake in the proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach but wants to make certain the facts at the Claude Bud Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant are accurate.

“Wind driven fires move fast, and residents need to be ready to evacuate at a moments notice in the event of a wildfire, he said in the statement.

John Dobken, Public Information Officer at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, writes that Southern California Edison is in the process of moving spent nuclear fuel from wet to dry storage. The reactors at San Onofre nuclear plant were retired in 2013. But attention has been turned to the spent fuel on site. Some are trying to mislead the public about what spent fuel is, and how its stored, Dobken argues and Edison is correcting the record.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the number of SCE customers that could be impacted by outages this week.

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LOS ANGELES – A red flag warning was issued on Tuesday over most of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties for early Thursday through Friday afternoon due to strong Santa Ana winds and low humidity that is expected to produce critical fire weather conditions across Southland, the National Weather Service said.

Orange Countys inland areas, mountain slopes and some coastal areas are all at risk through the evening of Friday, Oct. 11.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings across Southern California and now SoCal Edison may shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

Orange Countys inland areas, mountain slopes and some coastal areas are all at risk through the evening of Friday, Oct. 11.

The weather service in Los Angeles/Oxnard issued a red flag warning for wind and low relative humidity, which is in effect from 3 a.m. Thursday to 6 p.m. Friday in the Los Angeles County mountains, Angeles National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area, the coastal area stretching into downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Santa Clarita valleys. The warning will also cover all of Orange County and most of Ventura County and the Los Padres National Forest. 

This alert could be extended if atmospheric conditions hold up. FOX 11 will be closely monitoring the possibility of the addition of wind advisories, high wind watch/warnings, and red flag alerts in our area. 

Fire agencies will be staffed around the clock and adding strike teams in urban/wildland interface areas vulnerable to damaging wildfires.

"With some of the most destructive and deadliest fires occurring October through December, we need Californians to not be complacent,'' Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said. "Wind-driven fires move fast, and residents need to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice in the event of a wildfire. We have increased our staffing, but need the public to remain vigilant. It is important to follow evacuation orders and leave early as fires move very fast under these conditions.''

We can expect controlled power shutoffs and outages to take place in multiple locations, with varying times depending on the winds. Southern California Edison said it could shut off power for about 80,000 customers in San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties. 

The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry downslope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California. They originate from cool, dry high-pressure air masses in the Great Basin. The fast-moving winds dry out vegetation, making it better fuel for a fire — and once a fire starts, the winds fan the flames and help spread them.

Forecasters noted that "if fire ignition occurs, conditions may be favorable for extreme fire behavior, which would threaten life and property.''

NWS said the wind will gust at between 45 and 70 miles per hour Thursday afternoon and evening amid humidity levels of 3 to 10 percent. Given the abundance of dry vegetation, "critical fire weather conditions are likely,'' the NWS said in a statement.

Posted in Santa Ana