Santa Ana winches bring critical fire hazard, red flag warning

As the alisal fire smoldered in the Santa Barbara borough, residents of the Los Angeles and Ventura boroughs prepared for the arrival of critical fire weather and the threat of Santa Ana winds on Friday.

A red flag warning, signaling warm temperatures, dry conditions, and fearsome gusts, went into effect at 6 a.m. and should last until 8 p.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

It’s the kind of weather firefighters fear most: when a single spark can quickly turn into wildfire that gets out of hand. The region’s record high summer and worsening drought have only helped bake the state’s vegetation and prepare it to ignite.

Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said “everyone is on high alert” when the wind picked up Friday morning.

“We’ve seen it before in forest fires during Santa Ana events,” Sirard said. “When a fire breaks out, it can lead to extremely dangerous conditions with rapid spread and very intense activity.”

The Santa Anas are expected to deliver 30 to 45 mph in a number of areas including the Malibu Coast, Santa Monica Mountains, and the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys, with a few isolated gusts of up to 55 mph, said he.

Temperatures should rise to the high 80s and low 90s in much of the Los Angeles area – well above normal for this time of year, Sirard said. And the humidity was set to 6% to 12% “fall like a stone”.

Officials said the red flags are being propelled by a stronger offshore current under a high pressure system.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department advised residents to prepare their homes and families for the increased risk of fire. Preparations include identifying evacuation routes, putting together emergency kits, and removing vegetation and combustible material from homes and buildings.

Sirard said residents should also be careful not to create sparks, including using fireworks. (Fortunately, the Dodgers won before the red flag warning hit.)

Wind events in Santa Ana can also result in scheduled power shutdowns, which are normally performed to prevent utility equipment from igniting a fire.

Some shutdowns were already in progress in the Bakersfield area, according to Pacific Gas & Electric. No SoCal Edison customers were affected as of Friday morning.

Firefighters have made good progress on the burning Alisal fire in Santa Barbara County, which was 41% contained on Friday after burning approximately 17,000 acres since Monday.

The poor air quality related to the fire should improve on Friday, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Several smaller fires also threatened the state this week, including a Sacramento fire that destroyed 30 buildings and a fire near an oil refinery in Los Angeles.

But there is good news on the horizon: The expanded forecast for the Los Angeles area shows a “decent chance” for above normal rainfall next week, the weather service said.

The Southland just has to survive the Santa Ana wind event first, forecasters said.

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