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Red Flag Warning Issued, Firefighters Brace For Strong Santa Ana Winds

Above: This NOAA map shows the area of San Diego County under a Red Flag Warning, in effect from Thursday October 25 through Saturday, October 27, 2012.

Aired 10/25/12 on KPBS News.

A red flag warning is in effect for much of San Diego County from Thursday night through Saturday afternoon as powerful Santa Ana winds, combined with single-digit humidity, are expected to increase the danger of wildfires.

Emergency officials are bracing for dangerous fire conditions across San Diego County as powerful Santa Ana winds are expected blow into the region today.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the inland and mountain areas of the county from 2 a.m. Friday through 2 p.m. Saturday.

"Critically dry fuels will create an environment favorable for rapid fire growth," the NWS reported.

Strong offshore winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour are forecast for the mountains and canyons with humidity levels below 10 percent. Coastal and Inland areas could see gusts to 30 miles per hour.

Cal Fire Captain Mike Mohler said his team is at full staff and on high alert.

"We’re concerned about anywhere in the eastern portion of San Diego County all the way up to Palomar, Cleveland National Forest – so really the inland valleys of San Diego," said Mohler.

The strongest winds are expected along Interstate 8 near Buckman Springs, Campo, Boulder Creek and below Cuyamaca Peak.

"The winds will make driving difficult, especially for motorists with high profile vehicles,'' according to a NWS advisory. "Watch for broken tree limbs and power lines. Winds of this strength may cause minor property damage.''

SDG&E will open an emergency operations center and pre-stage crews for the duration of the red flag warning, while closely monitoring wind and humidity levels from 144 weather stations located throughout the county, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan.

"That allows us to be ready in the event of an outage or a downed line or something where we cannot only address the issue of the outage quickly, but also should there be a spark that starts a fire, we’ve got the right people at the right place at the right time," Donovan said.

Donovan said they don't expect to proactively shut off power in high risk areas unless winds get close to or exceed equipment design criteria. "But we will do that only after serious consideration and a notification of those areas in advance, if we can," said Donovan.

Winds are expected to gradually diminish on Saturday and Sunday, according to NWS.

Mohler urged residents to be on the lookout for fires and review their evacuation plan, that should include:

  • A designated emergency meeting location outside the fire or hazard area. This is critical to determine who has safely evacuated from the affected area.
  • Several different escape routes from your home and community. Practice these often so everyone in your family is familiar in case of emergency.
  • Have an evacuation plan for pets and large animals such as horses and other livestock.
  • A Family Communication Plan that designates an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact to act as a single source of communication among family members in case of separation. (It is easier to call or message one person and let them contact others than to try and call everyone when phone, cell, and internet systems can be overloaded or limited during a disaster.)

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