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Santa Ana winds roll into San Diego County, increasing fire danger

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Posted at 4:34 PM, Oct 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-16 11:28:27-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Santa Ana winds moved into the county on Friday, bringing an elevated risk of fire danger to some areas.

The National Weather Service (NWS) said winds are expected to die down by Saturday, but fire risk is near critical condition.

That essentially means there's still the potential for fires. San Diego Cal Fire shared that they are more than prepared for any call that may come in. NWS told ABC 10News that this is really the first we are seeing of Santa Ana winds, but it will not be the last. They ask that others, look at the bigger picture.

Meteorologist Alex Tardy, with NWS, said that last week's rain is now a distant memory.

“The dried-out conditions kind of puts us back into critical fire weather," said Tardy.

Friday, areas like Alpine and Valley Center saw 50 mph winds. Sill Hill is said to have peaked at 80 mph.

CAL FIRE responded to a structure fire which then spread to nearby vegetation. Cal Fire Captain Thomas Shoots explained the winds' impact on the fire.

"We have the Northeast winds coming, weak Santa Ana but it really doesn't take much for the embers to jump from this structure fire into the vegetation," said Shoots.

Tardy explained that is concerning, but can be combated.

“In case anyone is wondering Santa Ana winds isn’t that supposed to mean red flag, it doesn’t always mean red flags," he said. "But it doesn’t mean drier conditions and you probably notice it in the air.”

The low humidity, higher temperatures, and those winds are not unusual this time of year, according to Cal Fire.

RELATED: Why do Santa Anas form and what makes them dangerous?

“This is a challenging time of year this is when we’ve essentially had all summer long and everything’s been drying out, our brush is already below critical levels," said Shoots. "The little bit of moisture we got last week wasn’t a huge help, they bought us a little bit of time but not much.”

But as Shoots shared, the brush levels across the county are "below critical levels we don’t see that this time of year."

Shoots said they are prepared as they are already at peak level staffing and have added on additional hand crews and aircraft.

“We throw a lot of resources at our fires but there is also a bit of luck on that. And that only lasts so long. Southern California can and does burn," he added. "We know that we have this fire history, we know that we have this fire potential, and we need everyone to take it serious.”

Tardy emphasized it's important to not just think about this weekend, but a drier than average winter that is on the horizon, which is also right at the peak of Santa Ana wind season.

“So even if we do see a little bit more rain in October or November we have to see that carrying through, so things are greening up and the fire threat goes away," said Tardy. "Otherwise Santa Ana winds actually peak in January, so if we do get in a situation where we only see a little bit of rain, we could still be in a situation where fire danger is high.”

Why do Santa Ana winds form?
Santa Ana winds generally form as winds from the Great Basin moves into Southern California, compressing air and heating it up as it moves faster through ridges and canyons out west.

Tardy said that fire season has gotten longer, typically lasting from summer to December. Santa Ana winds typically last from October to spring, with peak season being during December and January.

Tardy said with conditions as they are, anything is possible.

"The increase in humidity and clouds and cooler temperatures next week will really help us," explained Tardy. "But what we don’t want to see is back-to-back Santa Ana winds. That’s only really when we get into trouble with fire weather situations.”

Shoots added that even without these Santa Ana winds, the fuel for fires is still there. He asked others if you are planning on removing wood or brush, to do so on a day where it is raining or cool.

Tardy said that in order for fire season to come to a close, there needs to be significant rainfall. He is hopeful that will happen.