Wildfire conditions in San Diego County mountains, inland valleys

SAN DIEGO - A Red Flag warning signifying wildfire conditions remained in force Thursday in the mountains and inland valleys of San Diego County amid gusty high winds, high temperatures and low humidity.

Over the warning period, which is due to expire at 6 p.m. Friday, northeast winds will likely blow at up to 30 miles per hour, with 50-mph gusts, as the humidity level plummets to about 5 percent and temperatures rise to the 80s and 90s, according to the National Weather Service.

"A moderate to strong Santa Ana is increasing and will impact San Diego for the next two days, fire potential will be increased," said 10News Weathercaster Robert Santos. " In order for [the red flag warning] to be issued, several elements have to come together and last for six hours or more ... this includes strong winds, dry humidity and warm temperatures."

Winds are expected to weaken Friday night and moisture to increase Saturday. The possibility of rain and thunderstorms will follow from Sunday night into Monday, according to the weather service.

10News spoke with Alpine resident, James McElligott, who has lived in the area since 1965.

In the past, McElligott has had to evacuate a few times due to fires. He said he hopes his property will not be hit with another fire.

"You just hope it doesn't happen," he said.

McElligott said the blowing winds in the 70s wasn't pretty.

"We had a lot of horse manure, and the horse manure caught on fire," McElligott said. "When you'd see these little tumbling pieces rolling, you had to chase them and put them out."

Ten out of 20 San Diego-area crews sent to two wildfires in Riverside and Los Angeles counties were from CalFire. In San Diego, firefighters and reserve trucks are on alert throughout the red flag warning period.

County firefighters on alert

Firefighters in San Diego County are taking no chances during Thursday and Friday's Santa Ana winds. Days off have been canceled, extra engines are manned, and water tenders, air tankers and hand crews are standing by in case a major wildfire breaks out.

It was during that scenario that a call came in that a fire was moving toward homes on Twisted Oak Lane in Alpine.

Mark Hoffman and his son Taylor knew what they had to do.

"I filled up buckets and milk containers, whatever I could and ran up there and just started putting out whatever I could," said the younger Hoffman, who added, "The water I was throwing on it wasn't doing anything."

As they struggled to keep the flames from reaching their house, Mark Hoffman was across the street with a fire hose, pumping water from his parents' pool and spraying it on their roof and the vegetation nearby.

"We've had it come close before, but not across the street close, that's pretty close, a little too close for comfort there," said Wing.

Firefighters quickly put out the three-acre blaze and determined that it had been started by a spark from a weed-whacker with a metal blade. That neighbor had been trying to clear defensible space around his home in case of a fire.

Cal Fire says there are tens of thousands of acres of wilderness in San Diego County that hasn't burned in more than 40 years.

Battalion Chief Andy Menshek took 10News to one of the areas that he's most concerned about. Alta Loma is an area of hills and valleys in unincorporated El Cajon. The last major fire that came through was the Laguna fire in 1970.

"What you see is a lot of unburned fuel, it hasn't burned in over 40, 45 years and combine that with our drought conditions and add in a Santa Ana in May, it's one of the things that keeps us, as firefighters, up at night," Menshek told 10News reporter Allison Ash.

The battalion chief pointed out that many of the homes in the area have good defensible space clear of vegetation around their homes, but if a fire were to hit there it could spread fast because of the tough terrain and the fact that there's only one way in and one way out.

Firefighters will remain on high alert until the weather changes early next week.

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