The perfect storm of heat, wind and dry weather will likely continue over the next few days, driving fires burning in Southern California, but the danger should taper off as the weekend progresses, forecasters said.
Friday will bring the biggest challenge for firefighters battling the more than 4,700-acre Saddleridge fire in Sylmar and the three fires burning in Riverside County — the Reche, Sandalwood and Wolf fires. Wind gusts of 50 to 65 mph are expected in the mid- to late morning in those areas.
“It’s a strong northeast wind and it’s been able to push the [Saddleridge] fire further south and west,” said Kristen Stewart, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Oxnard. “Any brush can easily ignite [in these conditions.] The wind is the push and the low humidity is the impetus.”
Though winds were expected to die down Saturday, conditions will still be extremely dry. A fire warning for Los Angeles and Ventura counties — including where the Saddleridge fire is burning — has been extended from Friday to Saturday evening, said meteorologist Keily Delerme with the National Weather Service. A fire warning in the Riverside County valleys is in effect through Friday evening.
In the Santa Clarita Valley and Riverside County valleys, temperatures will be in the mid-80s and humidity will stay mostly in the single digits, Stewart said. On Thursday morning, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said humidity levels had dropped to as low as 3% with gusts of over 50 mph as firefighters battled the blaze.
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“You can imagine the embers from the wind have been traveling a significant distance,” he said. That can spark more fires.
In the late afternoon, winds will decrease, but not go away. Come Saturday afternoon, a low-pressure system coming from the West Coast will tamp down the Santa Ana winds, and gusts will lower to between 15 and 25 mph.
The decrease in winds might mean that the Saddleridge fire won’t spread as fast, but it’s hard to know exactly how the firefighters’ struggle will be affected, Stewart said. In the span of 24 hours, the Saddleridge fire exploded to more than 4,700 acres and prompted evacuation orders to 23,000 homes.
In Riverside County, the 823-acre Sandalwood fire destroyed 75 structures. Overnight, firefighters made progress, reaching 10% containment.