SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The National Weather Service predicts powerful Santa Ana winds and low humidity in Southern California over the next week, increasing the risk of wildfires throughout the region.
The predicted wind event, with forecasts of gusts as high as 65 miles per hour in the San Diego County mountains, prompted the NWS to issue a red flag warning and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to increase staffing.
Fire officials said several years of drought coupled with heavy rains last winter created significant fire fuel in the form of underbrush and grass.
And because of a lack of recent rain, all of the fuel is extremely dry and ready to spark, officials said.
"Meteorologists at the National Weather Service have not seen models for a Santa Ana event like this in many years," said San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy.
"We are being vigilant in up-staffing to protect San Diegans and their property. We ask that residents practice their evacuation plans and be prepared in case of a wildfire."
The red flag warning will go into effect at 3 a.m. Monday, when high pressure over the Great Basin will begin driving strong gusty winds into Orange and San Bernardino counties.
The high winds will spread into the San Diego region Monday afternoon and evening. Forecasters predict northeast winds of 20 to 30 mph, with gusts of about 55 mph and isolated gusts up to 65 mph.
Daytime humidity will be as low as five to 10 percent, forecasters said. Strong, widespread winds were predicted from Monday night and Tuesday, and they will be possible again late Wednesday night and Thursday.
The red flag warning will conclude at 12 a.m. Friday morning. Winds were expected to weaken but still continue throughout Friday and Saturday.
Forecasters warned any fires that develop will spread rapidly, and recommended avoiding any activities that can spark a fire.
San Diego Fire-Rescue will increase staff through Thursday by adding two strike teams of 10 brush rigs each, one strike team of five fire engines, two water tenders and two helicopters, according to department spokeswoman Monica Munoz.
Dispatcher staffing will also be increased, Munoz said. Fire officials said in the event of a wildfire, it is not necessary for residents wait for an evacuation order, and recommended residents leave early on their own.