Santa Ana windstorm raises fire danger throughout Inland Empire


City News Service
RIVERSIDE (CNS) – The autumn season’s first Santa Ana windstorm will elevate fire danger and other public safety hazards throughout Riverside County Thursday and Friday, prompting officials to urge residents to take precautions.
A National Weather Service red flag warning is in effect until 6 p.m. Friday, meaning “critical fire weather” stemming from extremely high winds and low humidity is anticipated for the duration of the easterly winds.
According to the Weather Service, a ridge of high pressure settling over the Great Basin in Nevada and Utah will churn up offshore winds expected to be particularly fierce in mountains and passes.
Winds of 20-35 mph are forecast across the region, with isolated gusts as high as 70 mph in narrow passages, such as the Banning Pass near Banning, meteorologists said. Humidity will drop to 5-10% today and remain around 5% Friday.
The wind event will be pronounced in the San Bernardino Mountains this morning and gradually extend to the region’s valleys by afternoon.
“With some of the most destructive and deadliest fires occurring October through December, we need Californians to not be complacent,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said earlier this week. “Wind-driven fires move fast, and residents need to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice in the event of a wildfire. We have increased our staffing but need the public to remain vigilant. It is important to follow evacuation orders and leave early as fires
move very fast under these conditions.”
Porter stressed the need for people to take basic preventative steps, such as not mowing lawns during high winds, not driving vehicles over extremely dry vegetation, where sparks or hot engine components might touch off a blaze, limiting campfires to designated places and being on the lookout for suspicious behavior that could be arson-related.
The U.S. Forest Service said additional manpower has been secured for the next 48 hours to contend with any wind-driven blazes in the San Bernardino National Forest.
“We’re urging the public to be diligent with anything that can cause fires when in and around the forest,” Acting San Bernardino National Forest Chief Scott Howes said. “As Smokey Bear says, `One less spark.”’
Caltrans District 8, which serves the inland region, issued a statement warning motorists that light signals could go out if utilities implement “public safety power shutoffs,” which are permitted by the California Public Utility Commission.
The shutoffs, also known as “de-energization,” are permissible during high fire danger to prevent electricity lines from arcing, or transformers from throwing sparks and igniting fires, particularly in places not easily accessible to firefighters.
Southern California Edison, which serves large swaths of Riverside County, has a policy of generally trying to notify customers two days in advance of a prospective shutoff.
“Caltrans is advising motorists that (traffic) signalization on state routes throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties may be affected during the power outages,” according to an agency statement. “The signals will continue to cycle regularly for approximately three hours after the outage and will then cycle to `red-flash’ for another three to six hours. If the outage remains in place for more than six hours, the signals will then go to `blackout’ mode.”
Officials said flashing and blacked out traffic signals must be treated as stop signs, with the usual right-of-way and yielding protocols in place.
The winds are predicted to dissipate Friday night.
High temperatures today could reach 85 degrees in the Coachella Valley, 80 in the San Gorgonio Pass near Banning, 79 in Riverside, 80 in Temecula and 83 in Hemet.
Daytime high temperatures in the Riverside metropolitan area and Coachella Valley will hover in the low 80s Friday, forecasters said.