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Santa Ana winds to increase Southern California fire danger

Nearly 195,000 Southern California utility customers faced the possibility of having their electricity shut off Wednesday to prevent wildfires as Santa Ana winds developed.

Red flag warning went into effect late Wednesday morning and will last through much of Friday due to predicted strong gusts and very low relative humidity, the National Weather Service said.

The strongest and potentially damaging gusts were expected from Wednesday night through Thanksgiving morning. Gusts to 75 mph were expected near and below Cajon Pass and near the coastal foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.

“Fire danger will rapidly escalate during the night,” forecasters said.

windsock red flag
Alexander Nguyen
A windsock billowing in the wind in Jamul, Calif., Nov. 22, 2021.

Two big utilities were considering public safety power shutoffs in high-risk areas to prevent wildfires from being sparked if the Santa Anas were to damage power equipment or blow debris into power lines.

Southern California Edison said it was considering cutting power to more than 151,000 customers in Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

San Diego Gas & Electric was considering shutting off electricity to more than 43,000 customers.

"It’s been a few years around here now so now that fuel is there so that’s what we’re worried about," said George Wildberger who lives in Ramona.

He was among those alerted by SDG&E they may shut off his power.

"They said that starting tonight through Friday there was a chance they might shut off the power just cause the winds were going to get high," he said.

Having lived in Ramona for over 20 years he’s ready and is used to the Santa Anas this time of year and actually likes this new power safety shut-off policy, he said.

"It’s something that happens every year I’m kind of glad that they do that rather than leave everything live out there in the backcountry and let the fires start," Wildberger said. "So that’s really the biggest thing with the wind is the fires."

He’s already been through a few fires, one that hit too close to home.

"We had to spend almost a week wondering if the house was still there and finally one of the guys that lived up by me called me up and said yeah your house is still there, everything else is gone," Wildberger said.

Cal Fire San Diego is prepared and ready for anything, Capt. Frank Lococo said.

"All of our front line fire engines, hand crews, bulldozers, water tenders and aircraft are all ready to respond at a moment’s notice," he said.

He urges everyone to do the same because these conditions are ripe for wildfires that can quickly grow out of control.

"The Santa Ana winds, the strong winds, coupled with low relative humidity, the elevated temperatures and these lower fuel moistures can lead to critical fire weather and a small fire if established can grow quickly in these conditions," he said.

Be extra careful if you’re cooking outdoors, have a plan and a fire extinguisher handy just in case, Lococo said.

Forecasters also warned of a possible overnight hard freeze with temperatures as low as 23 degrees in the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles.

Updated: November 24, 2021 at 5:42 PM PST