Red Flag Warning Issued in San Diego County Due to Elevated Fire Risk
With the combination of high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity, any fires that develop could spread quickly
By Christina Bravo
January 29, 2018
San Diego County is under a critical fire weather warning as Santa Ana winds strengthen and temperatures warm across Southern California.
The warning issued by The National Weather Service is in effect until 7 p.m. Monday.
As the work week starts, temperatures should stay 10 to 15 degrees above normal. Dry, windy conditions and low humidity are expected Monday.
Winds will pick up after 10 a.m., according to NBC 7's Whitney Southwick.
"This is very unusual for us to have these strong Santa Anas this time of the year," Southwick said.
The warning was issued due to a combination of extreme weather conditions that have the potential to spark and quickly spread wildfires.
Cal Fire San Diego is increasing staffing during the period of elevated fire danger. An additional 120 firefighters will be on call in case of any wildfires that spark. Two helicopters and three air tankers were also on hand.
People who live in the area of the Lilac Fire are hoping there isn't a repeat of last month's devastation. Sean Carlson, of Bonsall, told NBC 7 has a "go bag."
"I've got stuff that's really important in a box," he said. "Birth certificate and what not. I always figured if you can buy it, it can be replaced."
Nighttime is also a concern for firefighters.
"During a high wind Santa Ana event, some of our biggest problems are at night because we have reduced visibility, but the wind carries the fire and carries embers. It's a big problem at nighttime," Chief Bob Pfohl with the Viejas Fire Department told NBC 7.
Temperatures were 12 to 22 degrees above average for areas west of the mountains in Southern California Sunday. Daytime high temperatures at the coast and in the inland valleys jumped into the high 80s and low 90s Sunday.
The NWS said some areas saw wind gusts top 60 miles per hour Sunday.
The highest gust recorded by 4 p.m. was on Sill Hill, south of Julian near Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, where an isolated wind gust reached 89 mph, the NWS said.
Big Black Mountain, northwest of Santa Ysabel recorded one 79 mph gust, and Alpine recorded gusts in the low 60s.
Winds could also make driving difficult, especially for motorists with high profile vehicles. The NWS warned drivers to be on the lookout for fallen branches or tree limbs.
On Sunday, a tree limb fell onto Interstate 15 in Rancho Bernardo, temporarily blocking one lane, California Highway Patrol said. Caltrans was called the scene was cleared within an hour.
About an hour later, a semi-truck on I-8 near the Buckman Springs rest area flipped over due to gusty winds, CHP said.
On San Diego County's first full day under fire weather warning Sunday, San Diego Gas & Electric shut off power to about 3,800 customers in east and northeast parts of the county. SDG&E said Sunday power "will remain out for at least one day" and that these outages were for safety reasons.
By 7 p.m. Sunday more than 2,000 customers were still without power.
SDG&E established two "mobile customer care centers" to provide wi-fi, water, snacks and a charging station for those affected by the outages. More information can be found here.
The outages were set as a precaution against wildfires. With the combination of high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity, any fires that develop could spread quickly.
On Sunday, a small brush fire erupted near the State Route 125 and SR-54 junction in Eastlake. CHP said the fire quickly spread up a hillside, but firefighters were able to quickly contain the blaze.
CVFD Batt. Chief David Albright said although they were quickly able to contain the blaze, it should serve as a reminder of how dangerous these conditions can be.
"Important for folks to remember even with the little bit of rain we had, with the red flag warning fires can still spread fairly rapidly and this was a good example of this," Albright said.
Because of the ease with which a fire can spread, outdoor burning of any kind should be avoided. Simple activities such as mowing your lawn, hitting a rock or welding could spark a devastating brush fire.
Staffing levels remain as high as they did during the summer due to a swarm of wildfires across Southern California during the winter months, including the devastating 4,100 Lilac Fire that erupted in North San Diego County in December.
The NWS cited a weak rainy season as a reason the region is experiencing fire weather in the midst of winter.
"It may be January, but the weak rainy season has left the vegetation very dry. As a result, the wildfire risk will increase Sunday-Monday when Santa Ana winds arrive," the NWS tweeted.
Fire weather conditions will weaken after the red flag warning expires Monday but could return late next week..