San Diego

Santa Ana Winds Prompt Power Shut-Offs, School Closures

Residents that could be affected by the planned outages live in wind-prone areas and are considered "high-risk"

Power was slowly restored to tens of thousands of homes and businesses that were without power for a second day amid gusty Santa Ana winds with the potential to down power lines and spark wildfires.

San Diego Gas & Electric's public safety power shut-offs began overnight Wednesday and left as many as 25,000 customers across San Diego County -- from Alpine to Rancho Santa Fe and as far north as San Juan Capistrano -- without electricity. 

A real-time outage map can be found here. An interactive wind map can be found here

NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said around 11 a.m. wind conditions were improving around the county, though humidity levels remained critically low. 

SDG&E was monitoring weather conditions in order to determine when power could be restored. All lines would need to be inspected before they could be re-energized, a process that SDG&E said began at dawn Thursday. 

As of 1:10 p.m. more than 5,500 customers were still without power but just as a Red Flag Warning expired Thursday, power was restored to all without power except for two in the outskirts of Julian.

Power shutoffs have residents finding alternative solutions. NBC 7's Rory Devine has the story.

More than 40,000 customers were warned of potential public safety power shut-offs during this week's Red Flag Warning.

The utility company notified customers Monday and Tuesday to the potential planned outages, which they call a "last resort" measure to prevent wildfires. 

Customers who could be impacted span from the U.S.-Mexico border to as far north as Encinitas and Escondido.

To see a map of potentially affected communities, click here.

The potential shut-offs forced the County Office of Education to close all schools in the following districts Thursday:

  • Dehesa School District
  • Julian Union High School District
  • Julian Union School District
  • Mountain Empire Unified School District
  • Rancho Santa Fe School District
  • Spencer Valley School District 
  • Vallecitos School District (closed Thursday and Friday)
  • Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District

Most schools and offices in the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District lost power Wednesday morning and continued holding school, an emergency alert on their website said. Pauma Elementary and Lilac Elementary were the only schools with power as of 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Click here to see a complete list of closed campuses.

NBC 7'S Nicole Gomez explains why planned power outages for public safety are forcing schools to close their doors.

SDG&E said Thursday it would open several Community Resource Centers at 8 a.m. to assist those impacted by the outages. The centers will provide snacks, phone chargers and updated information to affected residents. Those site are:

Descanso Branch Library
9545 River Dr, Descanso, CA 91916

Dulzura Community Center
1136 Community Building Road, Dulzura, CA 91917

Whispering Winds Catholic Camp (Julian)
17606 Harrison Park Road, Julian, CA 92036

Lake Morena Community Church
29765 Oak Drive, Campo, CA 91906

Pine Valley Improvement Club
28890 Old Highway 80, Pine Valley, CA 91962

Potrero Community Center
24550 Highway 94, Potrero, CA 91963

Warner Springs Resource Center
30950 CA-79, Warner Springs, CA 92086

SDG&E also opened two information centers, offering the latest details on the outages from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. here:

Ramona Branch Library
1275 Main Street, Ramona, CA 92065

Valley Center Branch Library
29200 Cole Grade Road, Valley, Center CA 92082

On Wednesday afternoon, as the high winds and power outages charged on, Harrah's Resort Southern California in Valley Center was forced to close its doors on Wednesday and reopened Thursday afternoon.

In San Diego's East County, Viejas Casino and Resort was running on back-up generators Wednesday. The surrounding Viejas Outlet Center was closed.

Southern California was expected to see the strongest winds of the season during the Red Flag Warning which took effect at 10 p.m. Tuesday and will last until 6 p.m. Thursday. The strongest winds were expected on Wednesday in Los Angeles-area mountain ridges. 

Residents are anxious following two fires in the area. NBC 7's Llarisa Abreu has more.

In San Diego County, wind gusts were expected to be in the 50 mph range for the foothills. Isolated gusts at mountain ridgetops could reach over 70 mph, NBC 7 Meteorologist Sheena Parveen said. 

The National Weather Service said coastal slopes would see areas of east winds 20 to 30 mph. The winds were expected to slow down by Thursday afternoon.

“This is going to be a widespread event, so what we’re going to see is some of these lower elevation areas that aren’t always prone to the winds,” said SDG&E director of fire science and climate adaptation Brian D’Agostino. “So, we’re watching some of those areas on the outskirts of our communities very closely.”

A Red Flag Warning means the combination of gusty winds, hot temperatures and low humidity that make the perfect conditions for wildfires to spark and spread rapidly.

San Diego County resident Tom Lamb remembered just how destructive the combination of winds and fires were 12 years ago during the Harris Fire.

"Within three days, it had burned all of thise hill along here away from my property but all these hills," as Lamb pointed to the surrounding area.

Lamb said he was prepared with a generator and plenty of defensible space around his home.

"We're all stocked back up and ready to help out for this next set of Santa Anas. We'll see how it goes," Jamul Hardware Manager Colton Brady told NBC 7.

Customers that could affected by the planned outages live in wind-prone areas and are considered "high-risk," SDG&E said. 

The communities alerted include: Alpine, Boulevard, Campo, Descanso, Dulzura, El Cajon, Encinitas, Escondido, Jacumba, Jamul, Julian, Lakeside, Mount Laguna, Pala, Palomar Mountain, Pauma Valley, Pine Valley, Potrero, Poway, Ramona, Ranchita, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Santa Fe, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, San Marcos, Santa Ysabel, Valley Center, and Warner Springs.

“We see both sides, and I appreciate being safe, so if that’s what they have to do, that’s what they have to do,” said Alpine resident Kim Mascari.

Alpine resident Joe Mascari said he is OK with the shut-offs "because I’ve seen the fires and how bad it is."

Mascari said his power was shut off once before during a Santa Ana wind event.

"If it saves lives, if it saves people’s properties, I think we can learn to cope with it," he added. 

NBC 7’s Danny Freeman spoke to a neighbor who said he is all too familiar with the destructive wildfires that can erupt during a windstorm.

The weather conditions were also impacting Meals on Wheels, a food delivery and social service for the county’s seniors. Nearly 2,000 San Diegans depend on this service.

But delivering meals on Red Flag Warning days can prove difficult, according to Meals on Wheels San Diego East County Manager Janaira Quigley.

“I'm nervous for the elderly that can't get out and can't move. And especially during fire season, I really wonder what her other options would be if Meals on Wheels or other nonprofit organizations weren't around to help people that needed it,” Quigley said.

June Kaufman, 78, lives in Alpine where the strong winds blew out one of her windows, leaving her in the cold and in dark during the safety outages.

Meals on Wheel delivered a radio and blanket to Kaufman, as well as food.

“The old are often forgotten. That blanket is everything,” Kaufman said.

In Valley Center, a small restaurant kept the power on amid the widespread shut-offs with a diesel generator and a hopeful attitude.

Phyllis Kemp, who owns the Lake Wohlford Café off Lake Wohlford Road, said her restaurant lost power at around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

But her generator – that can last up to three days on a full tank – flipped the switch, and now Kemp said she’ll keep her café open 24 hours, seven days a week until the power comes on.

“They can come in, hang out, eat some dinner, just hang out and be comfortable, instead of being in their house and in the dark,” Kemp told NBC 7.

Last week -- amid another Red Flag Warning in San Diego County -- SDG&E cut power to, at one point, close to 20,000 people. Some of those communities were forced to cancel classes due to the lack of power. 

SDG&E said their crews did find damage to the electrical system before restoring power to customers. The utility would not specify and did not say if the move to shut off power prevented a possible wildfire. 

Fall is historically one of the most dangerous times of the year for wildfires in California. Seven of the state's 10-most destructive wildfires occurred in October -- many fueled by monster winds, including Santa Ana gusts.

NBC 7's Gaby Rodriguez speaks to a San Marcos man who goes out of his way to look for smoke in case of a wildfire.
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