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Santa Ana Winds, High Temperatures Stoke Wildfire Fears

Firefighters putting out hot spots in the Comet Fire in San Marcos, Calif. Jan. 14, 2021.
Matthew Bowler
Firefighters putting out hot spots in the Comet Fire in San Marcos, Calif. Jan. 14, 2021.

San Diego’s current spell of hot dry weather is linked to a Santa Ana condition that’s been in the region for a week. And the hot, windy weather raised concerns about wildfires.

That’s one reason more than 200 firefighters — five strike teams — attacked a brush fire on the Palomar College campus on Thursday.

Several dozen acres burned before fire crews controlled the blaze.


“We had a great air attack with our partners from Cal Fire and San Diego’s Sheriff's Department, as well as an aggressive attack with our firefighters on the ground,” said Jason Nailon of the San Marcos Fire Department.

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The mild Santa Ana winds pushed temperatures into the 90s in some parts of San Diego County.

There was concern the flames would rage out of control in the hot, dry windy conditions.

“We usually aren’t this dry,” said Alex Tardy of the San Diego National Weather Service. “We’ve seen 25% to 50% of average rainfall so far this winter. While we did expect that, we expected it to be a dry year, usually in the middle of January you have green vegetation.”


Hot and dry conditions will persist into the weekend, according to Tardy, and that puts an exclamation mark on last year’s unseasonably warm temperatures.

“From June through October, it was the hottest on record for not just southern California but the entire state of California,” Tardy said.

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And it was not just hot here.

Federal climate scientists say 2020 was one of the planet's hottest years on record.

“Actually the last seven years, 2014 through 2020 rank among the seven warmest years on record,” said Ahira Sánchez-Lugo, NOAA Climatologist.

Those record-setting years for heat are increasing the risk of extreme weather events all over the globe. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires and drought are just some of the events that now happen more often and with greater intensity.

“Some locations are seeing more intense and more frequent heatwaves and that has an impact on our lives,” Sanchez-Lugo said. “The most vulnerable are the people who work outdoors, the elderly, and the kids.”

The weather outlook for 2021 is a bit brighter.

Sanchez-Lugo said a mild La Nina condition could help keep global temperatures from setting another record.

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