Gusty Santa Ana winds will subdue over the weekend but not enough to eliminate the fire threat for San Diego County, forecasters say.
The combination of strong easterly winds and low humidity prompted the National Weather Service to put the mountains and valleys under a Red Flag Warning from 6 p.m. Wednesday through 10 p.m. Saturday but the alert was lowered to a fire weather watch on Friday. Even after the warning expires, though, there's still a potential for wildfires.
"Humidity could drop to around 5 to 10% (this weekend). That's still critically low across the county and it'll still be pretty breezy in the mountains and potentially in the foothills at times," NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said.
Santa Ana winds peaked overnight Thursday and their potential to quickly exacerbate a wildfire was realized when a blaze sparked in Rancho San Diego late Wednesday. The Willow Fire tore through 30 acres, destroying one home and damaging six others in its path. Firefighters had the blaze surrounded by Thursday evening.
Small fires also sparked in San Marcos and Fallbrook on Thursday and Friday respectively, the latter an extension of a house fire. Neither grew to more than three acres in size thanks to the work of firefighters.
In order to prevent wildfires that could be caused by downed active power lines amid gusty winds, San Diego Gas & Electric cut power to tens of thousands Wednesday night. At its highest point, about 72,000 homes and businesses were without power and at least 40,000 were still without power Friday afternoon.
SDG&E said power shut offs could last through Sunday if winds persist.
To prepare for the fire danger, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said it’s increased its staffing as a precaution.
Five brush engines and two water tenders will be available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and two helicopters will be available 24 hours Thursday and Friday.
Cal Fire said it is fully staffed, and even brought in extra aircraft to the airfield in Ramona. Nine helicopters capable of dropping tens of thousands of gallons of water are staged ready to deploy on a moment's notice if another fire started, the agency said.
“In San Diego, are we really ever out of fire season? The answer is no," said Robert Hartman, Battalion Chief of SDFD. "As long as those winds are blowing, as long as those humidities are down, there is a potential for a large wildfire.”