Nearly 8,000 Without Power As Fire Risk Increases In San Diego County
Thursday, October 24, 2019
Photo by Bennett Lacy
UPDATE: 4:35 p.m., Oct. 24, 2019
With unseasonable heat and strong Santa Ana winds expected in the San Diego area through the end of the workweek, local firefighting crews were on high alert today and utility officials shut off power to nearly 8,000 East County homes and businesses in a bid to prevent wildfires.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning, in effect until 5 p.m. Friday in the mountains and valleys. During the period, sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph were expected, with gusts up to 65 mph near mountain ridge tops. The fiercest winds are likely to hit late tonight and early Friday, the NWS advised.
Firefighters in El Cajon were making last minute checks of all their firefighting equipment this morning. They want to make sure its ready if they are called upon to battle any wildfire that may pop up during this Santa Ana event. All locally based fire crews are fully staffed and on alert.
Thomas Shoots, spokesperson for Cal Fire, says the county has invested in new equipment and fire-fighting resources.
"We’ve added eight extra engines throughout the county. We’ve added hand crews, dozers and overhead to support that. Just to make sure if we see a situation like we did in 2003 and 2007 where we have multiple fires burning that we still have resources to send out," Shoots said.
The Cedar fire in 2003 and the Witch Creek fire in 2007 were two of the largest and most damaging wildfires to hit San Diego County. Both ignited and took off during a late October Santa Ana wind condition similar to the one currently sweeping over the region.
“The fuels are incredibly dry. The air is incredibly dry. The humidity today is in the single digits around the county so once you get that wind we know that the brush and grasses is going to be very receptive to any kind of fire," Shoots said.
Volatile weather conditions into the weekend
The National Weather Service says daytime humidity could drop as low as 5% Thursday and high temperatures in inland areas will hover in the mid-to high-90s.
Temperatures in the mountains will top out in the high 70s.
The NWS also issued a high wind warning that will be in effect in the county mountains and valleys from 8 p.m. Thursday until 2 p.m. Friday. Officials warned that damaging winds could blow down trees and power lines, while travel will be especially difficult for high-profile vehicles.
The strong winds will continue through Friday afternoon, then begin subsiding, forecasters said. Alex Tardy of the National Weather Service says residents will need to keep an eye on conditions as they change.
"Thursday night and Friday night, a lot of places the winds will continue to blow, just enough. And just enough means it’ll keep the temperature up and it keeps the humidity down. And so your conditions….we call that poor humidity recovery but your conditions can be, nearly as bad even without the sun shining," Tardy said.
The predicted Santa Ana winds initially prompted San Diego Gas & Electric to notify roughly 24,000 customers of potential power shutoffs for safety reasons, but as of Wednesday night that number had increased to nearly 42,000.
Areas that could be affected by power outages include:
– Barrett Lake
– Black Mountain Ranch
– Coronado Hills
– East Valley Center
– Elfin Forest
– Lake Hodges
– Palomar Mountain
–Rancho Bernardo West
– Rancho Santa Fe
– Santa Ysabel
– Shelter Valley
The San Diego County Office of Education shuttered schools in the Mountain Empire Unified School District, between the Pine Valley and Morena Village areas, because SDG&E initiated a precautionary power shutoff to residents nearby.
SDG&E has opened two community resource centers from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the duration of the wind event. The centers are available for residents to get water and snacks, charge their phones and get updated information on the outages.
Areas that could also be affected include Barona, Barrett Lake, Black Mountain Ranch, Coronado Hills, East Valley Center, Elfin Center, Julian, Lake Hodges, Mesa Grande, Mount Laguna, Palomar Mountain, east Poway, Ramona, the western portion of Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Santa Fe, San Marcos, Shelter Valley, Viejas and Warner Springs.
One center will be located in Descanso, 9545 River Dr., and the other in Julian, 17606 Harrison Park Road.
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