Wildfire risk increases as Santa Ana winds, low humidity expected for region

SAN DIEGO - The National Weather Service predicts powerful Santa Ana winds to and low humidity take hold in Southern California over the next week, increasing the risk of wildfires throughout the region.

The predicted wind event, with forecasts of gusts as high as 65 mph in the San Diego County mountains, prompted the NWS to issue a red flag warning and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to increase staffing.

Fire officials said several years of drought coupled with heavy rains last winter created significant fire fuel in the form of underbrush and grass.

And because of a lack of recent rain, all of the fuel is extremely dry and ready to spark, officials said.

"Meteorologists at the National Weather Service have not seen models for a Santa Ana event like this in many years," said San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. "We are being vigilant in up-staffing to protect San Diegans and their property. We ask that residents practice their evacuation plans and be prepared in case of a wildfire."

The red flag warning will go into effect at 3 a.m. Monday, when high pressure over the Great Basin will begin driving strong gusty winds into Orange and San Bernardino counties. The high winds will spread into the San Diego region Monday afternoon and evening.

Forecasters predict northeast winds of 20 to 30 mph, with gusts of about 55 mph and isolated gusts up to 65 mph. Daytime humidity will be as low as five to 10 percent, forecasters said.

Strong, widespread winds were predicted from Monday night and Tuesday, and they will be possible again late Wednesday night and Thursday.

The red flag warning will conclude at 12 a.m. Friday morning. Winds were expected to weaken but still continue throughout Friday and Saturday.

Forecasters warned any fires that develop will spread rapidly, and recommended avoiding any activities that can spark a fire.

Deputy Chief Steve Wright says several years of drought coupled with heavy rains this past winter created significant fuel. He says although we should all consider it fire season year round, the conditions this week should have all of us on high alert.

“Know that with the dry temperatures we’re going to have, the low humidity and the high winds that we’re going to get. Any spark can start a fire and it can go very fast, very far, very quickly, and spread very rapidly,” said San Diego Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Steve Wright.

San Diego Fire-Rescue will increase staff through Thursday by adding two strike teams of 10 brush rigs, one strike team of five fire engines, two water tenders and two helicopters."

“Yeah, we’re ready we’re trying to plan ahead. We’ve got the warning that there’s a fire potential this week, especially on Tuesday with the high winds and we’re planning accordingly. Putting additional equipment and staff into play to be ready,” said San Diego Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief Steve Wright. "Monday through Friday they’ll be some wind in the back country coming down towards San Diego with Tuesday being worse, maybe 100 mile an hour winds.  So we’re going to staff up additional strike teams with five engines and the staffing that goes with them. As well as two helicopters and an air attack supervisor in the air and a plane. And we’re going to put all that together Monday through Friday with Tuesday being staffed more with three strike teams in play.”

Dispatcher staffing will also be increased.

Fire officials said in the event of a wildfire, it is not necessary for residents wait for an evacuation order, and recommended residents leave early on their own.