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San Diego Heat Wave Increases Fire Risk

A high pressure system will hover over the San Diego region starting Wednesday, bringing hot temperatures, low humidity and offshore winds – the key ingredients for wildfires.

The sun sets behind dry native vegetation in Little Tujunga Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains.
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Above: The sun sets behind dry native vegetation in Little Tujunga Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Aired 10/11/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

It's October, and the push is on to make sure San Diegans are ready for the height of wildfire season.
Guests

Stefanie Sullivan, meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in San Diego.

Augie Ghio, Chief of the San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District

San Miguel Safe and Sound Fire Expo information here.

Cal Fire Captain Mike Mohler said recent rains aren’t enough to dampen the fire risk.

“We don’t want anyone to get that false sense of security that we’re out of the woods,” said Mohler. “When we get a high pressure, our humidity levels drop, and even though we had that rain, that moisture can dry up within 12 hours.”

Wednesday and Thursday are expected to be the hottest days, according to the National Weather Service, with temperatures in the inland valleys soaring in the high 90s to low 100s. Coastal areas will have temperatures in the upper-80s.

"We'll probably have humidities at or below 10 percent by Wednesday midday," said meteorologist Grandt Maxwell with National Weather Service San Diego.

Maxwell said the weather pattern is not being characterized as a Santa Ana condition because the winds will be light with the largest gusts at 15-30 mph in the canyons and passes. "Santa Ana winds are usually double that," explained Maxwell. "We do not plan to issue any red flag warnings or advisories at this time."

Nevertheless, Mayor Jerry Sanders and fire Chief Javier Mainar warned San Diegans at a news conference on Tuesday to prepare for fire conditions over the next couple of days by taking all necessary precautions, including cutting back brush within 100 feet of residences.

"We have some potentially explosive conditions in San Diego County with lots of dead vegetation,'' Sanders said. "It doesn't take much effort and it might pay dividends that are impossible to measure in dollars and lives.''

Mainar said a fire in the northeastern part of the county broke out nearly two weeks ago and rapidly grew to 2,000 acres without the presence of strong winds.

A lot of homes in the city line canyons and uninterrupted brush lands that haven't burned in years, the chief said.

He said the San Diego Fire-Department has more equipment, including a pair of large tanker helicopters it can borrow from San Diego Gas & Electric, and better communications since the Cedar and Witch Creek fires occurred.

A cooling trend will begin on Friday and Saturday with temperatures dropping 5-10 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Maureen Cavanaugh and Megan Burke contributed to this story.

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