'Extreme' Fire Warning Issued For Thursday In San Diego County
San Diego County’s highest possible wildfire alert has been issued for Thursday as forecasters warn of strengthening Santa Ana winds combined with single digit humidity levels.
“We expect things to get worse before they get better,” said Alex Tardy, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index map uses four colors to display increasing levels of severity — from yellow to orange to red to purple. Thursday is projected to be purple, the highest level, which has never been issued in the county since the program began in 2014.
“It takes low humidity, it takes high wind speed, it takes dry fuels so the vegetation is ready to burn,” Tardy said. “We have seen big, large uncontrollable fires in these conditions historically when you match it all together. And that’s what puts us in the purple.”
The extreme purple warning means “fires could have explosive growth, burn very intensely and be uncontrollable."
“Now when things really turn the corner and get a little scary is Wednesday night and Thursday morning,” Tardy said. “And really all day Thursday is when we could see the potential for those 80 to 100 mile per hour winds. One-zero-zero. 100-mile per hour winds in the mountains.”
Easterly sustained winds of 20-45 mph are expected along the coast and inland valleys, with gusts exceeding 90 mph over the higher terrain.
Tardy emphasized wind conditions will vary greatly.
“Our mountains and our terrain is rolly, it has gaps, it has holes, it has peaks,” Tardy explained. "And so the winds follow that. So if you’re in a wind prone area that means you’re exposed to those easterly, northeasterly winds. If you’re protected by a mountain or building or hill or something like that you may not see as much wind.”
Humidity levels on Thursday are expected to dip to the 5-15 percent range.
“It’s a very critical situation,” Tardy said. “It’s a situation where everyone has to be involved and paying attention to prevent the fires because one cigarette, one spark, one backfiring vehicle, one piece of equipment, one power line could affect millions of people.”
Even without flames, winds could cause damage, Tardy warned.
“When you start talking over 60 miles per hour, over 70 miles per hour — easily that could be any tree, any loose object, any roof could be damaged," he said.
Tardy said San Diego County is experiencing one of its driest starts to the rainy season ever recorded, with just .02 inches measured at Lindbergh Field since Oct. 1.
This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh . It is Wednesday, December 6. Our top story as you heard in the newscast, wind driven fires are burning out of control is Southern California and Ventura County Los Angeles County closing freeways and forcing evacuations. A fire burning and sent Patino county is 100% contained. The Thomas fire has burned 65,000 acres forced 50,000 people to evacuate and threaten 12,000 homes according to the latest report. The early hours of Tuesday morning were the most terrifying. After scorching thousands of acres of land the Thomas fire spilled South and nearly burned into the town -- downtown core of the city. Firefighters were dealt good and bad luck during their efforts.Alex Liddi block off Main street near the center of town. She was asleep until around 4:00 a.m. when she realized something was wrong.I woke up to the sirens and them saying that we had to evacuate. Literally seeing the Hawaiian villages on fire. It was moving so quickly.The Hawaiian villages were a collection of multi-story apartments located six blocks from Ventura City Hall. The ashes are reminder of what the rest of Ventura could've look like if they did not get good luck and the early hours. According to the fire department the wind finally died down as the sun came up. It gave them the opportunity to beat back the fire but then came the bad news. When they try to tap into it city fire hydrants, there was no water because a major power line that runs from Ventura county was ruptured and they needed electricity. Officials say it took an hour to work around this but their efforts paid off. The result is that the city of 100,000 people is still standing.San Diego was bracing as the brunt of the Santa Ana winds will change direction and hit San Diego tonight. They will be strongest in the backcountry. Gas and electric shut off power yesterday when winds reached over 50 miles an hour. Joining me is Allison Torres . We just heard a report about the fact that electricity is crucial and getting water to firefighters who need to use fire hydrants to try to fight fires. Is the risk and shutting down power to the power lines that it's going to impede firefighters?There is a lot of risk. We have to look at what the risk is without doing that. That could be a catastrophic wildfire. We are working all year round to look at them and try to find plans. We have Fatima fire coordinators and we have about five that her former firefighting professionals and their liaisons to the fire agencies and they work closely with the fire chiefs. If there was a fire, they communicate with our fire coordinators to whether it be -- because they have asked for it or if it's about figuring out what facilities are energized and not energize. We are working with them constantly. Hopefully have a plan in place before it ever got to that point.Are there any planned outages underway right now?We don't have any planned outages. We are monitoring conditions very closely. We have a team that are looking at weather conditions 24/7. We are getting reads on wind speeds, temperatures and humidity's every 10 minutes. They're looking at that data to look at fire protection models and even communicating with the National Weather Service to make sure the region is prepared.Has power now been restored to those people?They have. They were restored about 4:30 PM that afternoon.Isn't the only area that has had power cut off due to fire risk question markYes. Like you said winds are starting to ramp up this afternoon.Has SDG&E warned other communities about the possibility that the power lines might be shut down question markWe have. That is something we been looking at for a week now. We been looking at the conditions trending. We identified some communities that were going to see some of the strongest winds and that includes more than just that area. You're looking at areas and pine valley so we did make calls to customers and -- and those areas -- in those areas on Monday. Reminding them that windy conditions can bring power outages whether they are planned or unplanned. We want to encourage those customers to have flashlights, batteries and the plan.What is the criteria they use to shut down power lines?It is a number of things that we take into consideration but not limited to certain things. Things like the circumstance of the emergencies, winds and the area, temperatures and humidity and we stage SDG&E crews and the areas. If they are seeing debris, tree branches painted up, those could create safety hazards so we would want to protect the integrity of our system if there was a hazard that were to arise out there. Those are the things that are taken into account inThis is not a new policy, right? They have done this before, right?We have. We've been doing this since 2013. The energizing power for safety is a last resort. There's a lot of measures we do before we get to that point. Were changing out about 13,000 would poles to steel poles. So we strengthen our system and made as safe as we can but if something does threaten the integrity of the system, we have to deenergize.Recently SDG&E said that if they turn down the utilities request to have consumers pick up the remaining costs of the 2007 fires, we will have to reevaluate whether we lower the standards for shutting off the power and are back countries. They voted against the request so has SDG&E reevaluated the standards for shutting off power?This is all about safety. This is all about protecting the communities, protecting life, protecting property. If anything were to threaten the integrity of the system or cause a safety hazard, we will have to 10 -- deenergize the power. We don't want to see another fire affect the region.Have they reevaluated the criteria that it uses and light of this decision?Right now were looking at some of those circumstances that I was mentioning. Looking at weather forecast and some wind speeds. Those are still some of things that we are looking at before the energizing.I read an article where you state there is contract fire crews out with people who are monitoring the lines in the backcountry. You have your own fire crews?We have contracted a number of fire crews that have trained fire fire professionals. So we have been out there and we have them and Alpine and Julian but we do bring them on as another safety measure to hopefully prevent any type of ignition.I've been speaking with Allison Torres. Thank you.Thank you.