Wind Study Used to Prevent Wildfires

By Greg Bledsoe and Christina London
|  Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013  |  Updated 10:00 PM PDT
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After downed power lines were blamed for starting the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, San Diego Gas and Electric installed dozens of weather stations to find out where winds were the most dangerous. Five years later, NBC 7's Greg Bledsoe shares what they've learned.

After downed power lines were blamed for starting the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, San Diego Gas and Electric installed dozens of weather stations to find out where winds were the most dangerous. Five years later, NBC 7's Greg Bledsoe shares what they've learned.

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As San Diegans honor the anniversaries of the Cedar Fire and Witch Creek Fire this week, meteorologists are using new technology to prevent future wildfires.

After downed power lines were blamed for starting the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, San Diego Gas and Electric installed dozens of weather stations to find out where winds were the most dangerous.

SDG&E currently has 144 weather stations around the county, a big difference from a few years ago.

“We just had a handful of weather stations around the backcountry to tell us what was going on," said Steve Vanderburg, a meteorologist with SDG&E.

In studying the county’s wind patterns, their findings defied previous knowledge of Santa Ana events.

“These winds, instead of funneling through passes and canyons, are actually spilling over ridges, analogous to rapids in a river,” Vanderburg said.

“Our strongest winds in the county are actually occurring at the bases of these very steep slopes.”

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Vanderburg said the windiest area in SDG&E’s territory is along Boulder Creek Road near Lake Cuyamaca, where the Cedar Fire destroyed tens of thousands of acres in 2003.

Vanderburg noted Hellhole Canyon, just east of Valley Center, as another high-wind area.

“By knowing where these areas are, that allows us to make sure we have the proper people and crews in place,” he said. “In addition to that, it also tells us where we want to convert wood poles to steel poles.”

All the wind data is shared with fire agencies. The public can also access it on SDG&E’s website.
 

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