Crews gear up as Santa Ana winds fan fire danger

SAN DIEGO -- Fire agencies around San Diego County were staffing up Thursday as strong Santa Ana winds, low humidity levels and high temperatures combined to ratchet up the fire danger for the county's  mountains and valleys.

A red flag warning went into effect at 10 a.m. Thursday in the San Diego County mountains and valleys and will last until 10 p.m. Friday. The NWS also issued a high wind warning for the county mountains and valleys that went into effect at midnight and lasts until 6 p.m. Friday.

Along with low humidity levels, the strong Santa Ana winds blowing northeast are to blame for the fire danger, with winds of 15 to 25 mph in the forecast and gusts near 35 mph possible Thursday morning in the county mountains before the winds strengthen and spread into the county valleys later in the day, according to the NWS.

Humidity was expected to drop to 5-10 percent Thursday.

Fuels are very dry and fires will grow rapidly and be difficult to control upon ignition, according to the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index.

High temperatures Thursday will be 75 to 80 degrees in the western valleys and 65 to 71 in the mountains, NWS forecasters said..

With the heightened fire danger, authorities recommended that residents avoid outdoor burning and have emergency preparedness kits in order.

"An emergency can happen at any time," a forecaster said in a statement on the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index Website. "Clean debris away from your house. Charge your cell phone and make sure you have plenty of gas."

“San Diego has been lucky to have good weather so far, but it doesn’t mean that the next big Santa Ana isn’t the big fire. So we always have to be prepared," said San Diego Deputy Chief Steve Wright.

On Thursday morning, San Diego Fire-Rescue staffed two additional water tenders, an extra helicopter crew and five additional brush rigs, which are all-wheel drive.

"We want these types of engines that can access those dirt roads and help put it out quickly when it's still a small fire," Wright said.

Crews were on standby for 24 hours.