Firefighters, first responders, brace for return of Santa Ana winds

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Fire, weather and utility officials gave notice Tuesday that they anticipate a return of strong Santa Ana winds by the end of the week and, with them, the possibility of red flag warnings and deliberate power outages for as many as 132,000 people in Southern California.

Weather experts with the National Weather Service posted a Fire Weather Watch for Los Angeles and Ventura counties, meaning, “critical fire weather conditions are forecast to occur.”

They advise residents in those counties to listen for later forecasts and possible red flag warnings and by mid-afternoon both a red flag warning and high wind watch were issued.

Both hazardous weather conditions were to go into effect at 1 a.m. Wednesday and remain in place until Thursday noon.

The warning posted on the National Weather Service website reads: “Fire weather watch in effect … over most of Los Angeles and Ventura counties for moderate to strong Santa Ana winds and very low relative humidity.”

The three components of a heightened fire danger are low humidity, high temperatures and strong winds.

A red flag warning issued two weeks ago, on Oct. 10, was posted less than 12 hours before the Saddleridge Fire ignited, burning brush and structures from Sylmar to Reseda in a single night.

Officials with Southern California Edison are prepared to pull the plug on 132,524 of its customers, utility spokesman Paul Netter said Tuesday.

Customers in and around the Santa Clarita Valley under consideration for the next intentional power outage, called a Public Safety Power Shutoff,  include:

  • Santa Clarita, Leona Valley, Lake Hughes, Green Valley, Lake Elizabeth, Cantillas, Canyon Country, Agua Dulce, Mint Canyon and Acton.

Asked when the PSPS outages would happen, if they do, Netter said: “Right now, that would be Wednesday into Thursday.”

“Whether the National Weather Service does or does not issue a red flag warning isn’t the determining factor,” Netter said.

“Working with its meteorologists, Southern California Edison and its field crews are responsible for turning the power off to customers to protect the public in emergency situations,” he said.

Right now, weather specialists are anticipating the worst.

“A Santa Ana wind event will likely bring widespread critical conditions to most of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties,” they posted.

“There is still some uncertainty in the strength of the winds, but peak gusts between 40 and 60 mph is the most likely outcome. 

“Minimum humidities will likely lower well below 10%, with maximum temperatures between 87 and 97,” they added.

A decision on whether to convert this watch into a red flag warning was expected to be made either Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning.

The prospect of strong gusty winds comes just as firefighters approach containing the Saddleridge Fire completely.

As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, officials with the Los Angeles Fire Department reported 95% containment, with 8,799 acres burned, 19 homes destroyed, 88 others damaged and just over 300 firefighters still deployed.

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On Twitter: @jamesarthurholt

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