Increased risk of wildfires amid record-breaking heat, gusty Santa Ana winds

SAN DIEGO  -- Santa Ana winds, combined with record-high temperatures and extremely dry air, will create dangerous fire conditions for much of San Diego County Monday, forecasters said.

The extreme heat, expected to be 20 to 25 degrees above seasonal averages Monday, has prompted schools across San Diego to implement minimum-day schedules, while fire agencies across the county have beefed up staffing to deal with potentially dangerous wildfires.

A Red Flag Fire Warning issued by the National Weather Service for parts of San Diego County was scheduled to be in effect until 6 p.m. Wednesday amid forecasts of hot, dry and windy weather in the inland valleys and mountains. The combination of extreme heat, low humidity and Santa Ana winds will create an increased threat of wildfire ignition and large fire growth, the NWS said.

The U.S. Forest Service warned that wildfires that ignite Monday in San Diego County "may grow rapidly." The Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index will be increased Tuesday when any fire that ignites "will grow rapidly and will be difficult to control."

To prepare for the increased danger of rapidly-spreading wildfires, Cal Fire, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and the Cleveland National Forest have all beefed up firefighting staffing levels.

Two sizeable fires erupted over the weekend. The "Church Fire" in Campo scorched about 100 acres Saturday and was expected to be fully contained Monday. The "El Capitan Fire," sparked Saturday afternoon by a plane crash that authorities believe killed two people, burned about 20 acres before firefighters brought the flames under control Saturday night.

Originally set to end Tuesday evening, the Red Flag warning was extended to 6 p.m. Wednesday as models showed high winds were expected to continue for an additional day, the NWS said. Forecasters expect Santa Ana winds to strengthen throughout Monday with gusts reaching up to 60 mph in certain spots. Meanwhile, humidity was expected to drop to about 5 percent Monday and Tuesday.

The high in the city of San Diego Monday was forecast at 93 degrees, which would match the previous record high for the date set in 1965. If Vista hits its expected high of 102, it will break the previous record high of 99 set in 1965. El Cajon is expected to touch 100 to match the previous record high set in 2003, while Ramona's forecast of 99 would break its previous record high for the date, also set in 2003. If Alpine hits its forecast high of 99 Monday, it will break the previous Oct. 23 record of 98 set in 1959.

With such extreme seasonal heat in the forecast, 85 schools in the San Diego Unified School District have announced minimum-day schedules Monday, including Morse, Mission Bay and La Jolla high schools.

The Red Flag warning that went into effect Sunday came on the 10th anniversary of the start of the October 2007 wildfires that wrought havoc on the San Diego region. Wednesday will mark the 14th anniversary of the deadly and destructive Cedar Fire of 2003.