San Diego

Santa Anas, Increased Fire Risk Has Southern California on Edge

Hundreds of homes were threatened Tuesday in Southern California as wildfires burned out of control north of Los Angeles. The arrival of Santa Ana conditions paired with extremely dry vegetation has residents on edge. 

Southern California was under a high wind and fire weather warning according to the National Weather Service.

The vulnerable conditions can be seen in the Thomas Fire burning in Ventura County.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air are battling a fast-moving brush fire raging across nearly 50 square miles north of Los Angeles, destroying 150 structures and forcing 27,000 people to flee their homes

Meteorologist Jim Cantore broke down the explosive spread of the fire this way.

"Based on perimeter and initiation: 3,729 acres/hr, 62 acres/minute, 1 acre/second, Roughly a football field a second," he posted on Twitter. 

Local Cal Fire Captain Jon Heggie they have assigned five engines and one bulldozer to help fight the fire in Ventura but are still prepared should any fires sparks in our county.

"The good thing here in San Diego is there hasn't been a huge draw on our resources as far as Cal Fire resources go," Heggie said.

Also in LA County, a 4,000-acre brush fire trapped several people in Sylmar and forced mandatory evacuations as it burned near Kagel Canyon in the Angeles National Forest. 

A third fire, the Rye Fire, broke out before noon in the Santa Clarita area and prompted the closure of I-5 in both directions near State Route 26, north of Six Flags Magic Mountain.

While it's common to see Santa Ana winds in December, the dry vegetation and the duration of wind are not common, according to the NWS.

A check of the U.S. Forest Service's Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index suggests it's going to be a very busy week for firefighters. 

Extreme risk of wildfire is expected for LA-Ventura, Orange-Inland Empire, and San Diego zones by Thursday. That designation means upon ignition, fires will have extreme growth, will burn very intensely, and will be uncontrollable.

Tom Rolinski, US Forest Service Fire Weather Meteorologist, said the models show a second surge of wind late Wednesday into Thursday with the strongest winds expected in the mountains east of San Diego.

“People should be taking it very seriously,” Rolinski said.

“This is like an ’07 event. This is like the fires of 2003," he said. "When we get ignitions, it’s going to be almost uncontrollable.”

Rolinski understands the concern of residents when he puts out the threat levels but said it's important that people prepare. 

They need to think “This is a day I may need to evacuate my home,” he said. 


Friday could be another active day for San Diego County with the risk expected to be high. The region is under moderate risk on Wednesday and Saturday, according to the USFS. 

Winds in San Diego County could gust up to 48 mph Tuesday in the areas east of Ramona and Alpine, according to NBC 7 Meteorologist Jodi Kodesh.

High winds prompted the closure of Old Poway Park Tuesday as well as the parking lots at Aubrey and Hilleary parks. The city of Poway said the upper parking lot of Lake Poway was also closed as a precaution.

Humidity levels could drop as low as 10 percent by midweek. 

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department has tripled their engines to 15 Tuesday. Additional dispatchers are being brought in and the department has two helicopters on call throughout the week.

Cal Fire officials say all employees are either on duty or on call. 

"We want people to look at this week as a hot dry day in the middle of August," Heggie said. "We need people to be aware of the situation with the Santa Anas and if an evacuation order is given, they need to be ready to evacuate in a moment's notice."

Heartland Fire & Rescue has sent one battalion chief to Ventura County to lead a strike team of engines on the Thomas Fire.

Jamul resident Dallas Higgins told NBC 7, he is prepared to leave in case of a wildfire.

"We keep everything in one box," Higgins said. "We'll throw it in our truck and we will take off."

Stay connected to weather updates through the free NBC 7 mobile app. 

NBC 7's Artie Ojeda tests a San Diego resident on how prepared she is if she only had five minutes to grab all necessities in an emergency.
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