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‘Blow-Dryer Over the Desert’: Santa Ana Winds Trigger Red Flag Warnings

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Red-flag warnings were in effect across the Southland on Friday, triggered by dry, hot Santa Ana winds that contributed to the most severe fire threat in five years, federal weather officials said.


Winds whip through the trees in this photo of the Santiago Canyon fire in Orange County 2007. (credit: Self-Propelled_E/flickr via Creative Commons)

Critical fire conditions are expected to last through Sunday evening for much of the region, according to the National Weather Service.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department and the city of LA fire department increased deployments through Sunday morning.

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“We’re going to be staffing almost 500 additional firefighters on various pieces of equipment throughout the county. It’s a fair number of folks and it’s commensurate with the dangers that we face every year here in Southern California,” said Inspector Anthony Akins, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.  “Fire season’s really an ongoing event all the time and we’re coming into the apex of it as the Santa Anas arrive and that big blow-dryer over the desert heats up and starts sending the warm air this way.”

Peak winds were predicted for Friday morning and Saturday morning, with relative humidity dropping sharply into single digits.

“Historically dry fuels” and ongoing drought conditions in the region prompted concern.

“This is about as bad as it gets in many years!” the weather service’s warning coordination meteorologist wrote in a slideshow (PDF) issued Thursday.

Gusts could reach 60 to 85 mph, and sustained winds were expected to range from 35 to 50 mph in wind-prone areas, the weather service warned.

An urgent weather message issued on Thursday afternoon said the combination of factors created the “most significant fire weather threat in the past five years.” There’s potential for “explosive” fire growth, the weather service said.

Red flag warnings are expected to last through 6 p.m. Sunday in Los Angeles County, with the exclusion of the Antelope Valley, and Ventura County, the weather service stated.

In most of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, a red flag warning was scheduled through 8 p.m. Sunday.

Temperatures are expected to be 5 to 15 degrees above normal while the winds persist, the weather service said.

Power outages are possible due to downed trees limbs, and visibility could be reduced due to blowing dust and smoke, the weather service said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory about the weather, and the cities of Pasadena and Los Angeles said parking restrictions would be in place on narrow and winding roads.

The county fire department urged residents to be alert during the hazardous weather:

-report any sign of smoke immediately to your local fire department by dialing 911;
-use extreme caution when operating spark or flame producing machinery in hazardous grass or brush areas;
-have a wildfire action plan in place if you live in a brush-heavy area; and
-report any suspicious persons or vehicles to law enforcement.