Red Flag Warning: SDG&E cuts power to rural East County, schools closed

SAN DIEGO --  A fire weather warning was extended as strong and gusty Santa Ana winds, low humidity and warm temperatures elevated the risk of wildfire in effect in the San Diego County mountains and valleys.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning that went into effect at 6 a.m. Sunday in the county mountains and valleys and lasts until 5 p.m. Wednesday. The NWS also issued a high wind warning that remains in effect until 5 p.m. Tuesday.

As of 11:30 p.m. Sunday, San Diego Gas & Electric shut off power to around 1,000 customers in  Boulevard, Descanso, Campo, Buckman Springs, Lake Wohlford, Pine Valley, Santa Ysabel and surrounding areas. By Monday evening, approximately 10,000 customers are impacted by the outages, according to SDG&E.

The outages could last until the red flag warning expires Wednesday afternoon and four resource centers are available for residents affected by the outages.

The resources center are located at:

  • Mountain Empire High School Gymnasium, 3305 Buckman Springs Road, Campo;
  • Potrero Resource Center, 24550 Highway 94, Potrero;
  • Camp Oliver Lodge, 8761 Riverside Drive, Descanso;
  • Golden Acorn Casino & Travel Center, 1800 Golden Acorn Way, Campo

Due to the outages, the following school districts will be closed Tuesday:

  • Jamul-Dulzura Union School District
  • Dehesa School District
  • Del Lago Academy - campus of Applied Science (Escondido Union High School District)
  • Julian Union School District
  • Julian Union High School District
  • Mountain Empire Unified School District
  • Spencer Valley School District
  • Jamacha Elementary in Cajon Valley Union School District
  • Cuyamaca Outdoor School

Schools in the Warner Unified School District will be closed Tuesday for a previously scheduled teacher work day.

A power outage was also reported to Encinitas school administration office, according to Tom Baird, Superintendent of Encinitas Union School District.

"Due to the high winds situation, we have the power out at our district office. That means that our phones and Internet are not working at our schools. We do have emergency lines for outgoing calls if needed. In addition, Ocean Knoll School has their power out until approximately 9:30 this morning. All of our schools are in session and will hold regular hours today," Baird stated.

“We don’t have any power, the gas is not working, and it’s cash only, but we are open for about two more hours,” said Alyssa Coppina at Perkin's Market in Descanso. “People are calling us, they always call to ask if we have gas, or to see if the power is out."

Coppina is a longtime resident who also works in Descanso.  She’s used to losing power when the winds pick up.

“I was told anything over 40 miles per hour, they’ll generally shut it off. They don’t want to cause any fires," said Coppina.

She knows it’s to keep her and the community safe, and for that reason she owns a generator.

“I find it as good news. Others don’t really care for it, but then again, we also prepare in advance. We get our generators. We charge our phones. We get everything that we need and just deal with it,” said Coppina. “We’re just kinda dealing with it, There’s nothing else you can do -- just take it one day at a time.”

Along with low humidity levels, the strong Santa Ana winds blowing northeast are to blame for the fire danger, with winds of 20 to 30 mph in the forecast and gusts of 85 mph were recorded in Sill Hill, near Julian, according to the NWS. Winds are expected to increase to 30 to 40 mph with gusts of 70 mph possible Monday evening through Tuesday morning.

Humidity levels will remain in the single digits Monday with no recovery overnight, according to the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index. Fuels are very dry and fires will grow rapidly, burn intensely and be difficult to control upon ignition.

Warm seasonal temperatures were also expected to add to the potential fire danger. High temperatures Monday will be 75 to 80 degrees in the western valleys, 66 to 71 near the foothills and 54 to 62 in the mountains, NWS forecasters said.

The San Diego Fire Department announced that beginning Monday at 8 a.m., the SDFD will increase staffing by five brush engines, with a crew of four firefighters each, and one battalion chief for a 24-hour period in anticipation of the increased fire danger.

"We've got you covered San Diego," Fire Chief Colin Stowell tweeted. "Winds will be extreme in the next day or so and if a wildfire starts in our city, you may have only minutes to evacuate."

With the heightened fire danger, authorities recommended that residents avoid outdoor burning, using lawn mowers or power tools outside 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."

In Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Santa Ana winds drove a large wildfire that prompted the evacuation of at least 75,000 homes, officials said. The Woolsey fire, which broke out Thursday afternoon, has scorched 85,500 acres and destroyed at least 177 structures.

Cal Fire projected full containment of the blaze won't come until Nov. 17.