Southern California was battered by powerful Santa Ana winds Saturday amid bone-dry conditions that had firefighters on high alert.
Wind gusts hit 90 mph in Laguna Peak in Ventura County on Saturday morning and 63 mph in the Newhall Pass. The gusts were less intense closer to the ocean: Leo Cabrillo Beach had 37 mph gusts. Relative humidity plunged to as low as 5% to 15%.
Area officials put extra fire crews on duty, patrolled through the night and moved equipment near potential burn zones after the
issued a red-flag alert, denoting the gravest level of danger.
The forecast for warm temperatures, low humidity and high winds through the weekend created what the weather service called the "highest wildfire threat we have seen in years."
One fire began about 3:30 p.m. Friday in Oxnard, where authorities responded to a structure blaze on South Oxnard Boulevard. No injuries were reported, said Oxnard Police Department Watch Cmdr. Marty Meyers.
About 90 minutes later, a second fire broke out in brush along Santiago Creek in the city of Orange. The fire jumped the creek and moved toward the Lake Condos development before an air attack put it out, officials said.
A few trees caught fire, but no other damage was reported.
The cause was under investigation.
"Our helicopter did an outstanding job keeping the fire away from houses," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi. "It saved property."
City of Orange spokesman Paul Sitkoff said the department would remain on patrol "throughout the evening as the fire risk is still high throughout the county."
About the same time, a third fire raced up a brushy hillside toward homes in Walnut. The Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatched two teams of engines, as well as water-dropping helicopters, and extinguished the fire short of the homes, said Michael Pittman, a Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatch supervisor.
Two fixed-wing SuperScoopers headed to the fire were sent back before they arrived, he said.
Pittman said fire department staffing was 20% to 30% higher than usual, with additional firefighting equipment on hand.