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Heat, winds and power outages: California braces for days of dangerous conditions

A plane drops fire retardant
An aircraft drops fire retardant as crews battle a brush fire Monday in Pacific Palisades.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

California is bracing for days of hot conditions, dangerous winds and possible power outages.

Red flag warnings were in effect beginning Wednesday in a large swath of Northern California as well the Los Angeles area.

Southern California is in the midst of a fall heat wave brought by a mixture of high pressure and offshore winds, with temperatures at least 10 degrees warmer than usual, said Jimmy Taeger, a National Weather Service meteorologist in San Diego.

Temperatures ranging from 90 degrees to over 100 degrees are expected across much of the Southland. The coolest beaches in the region are expected to see the mid- or upper 80s, forecasters say.

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The warming trend prompted the weather service to issue a heat advisory from 10 a.m. til 5 p.m. Tuesday, suggesting that people “drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors.”

The heat will get a boost when Santa Ana winds arrive Wednesday night, bringing prime conditions for wildfires across the region. Forecasters say that although there’s still some uncertainty about the strength of the winds, they anticipate peak gusts of 20 to 60 mph.

“There’s a fire weather watch in place on Thursday and Friday, but we still have elevated fire weather conditions today with it being hot, dry and a little bit windy,” Taeger said.

Similar conditions have helped fuel brush fires across the region this month, including blazes in Pacific Palisades, San Bernardino and the San Fernando Valley.

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Even in light winds on Monday, firefighters rushed to stop a blaze that quickly consumed about 40 acres in Pacific Palisades, burning dangerously close to multimillion-dollar homes in a hillside neighborhood and sending up a plume of smoke visible throughout the Los Angeles Basin.

In San Bernardino, firefighters took on a blaze that broke out Monday afternoon near homes in the Little Mountain area. The fire started shortly after 5 p.m. in thick brush near West 39th Street and North Severance Avenue. Aided by wind gusts of up to 30 mph, the fire raced up hills, burning 17 acres, damaging six structures and leaving two structures uninhabitable. The causes of both fires are being investigated.

Small fires that started Tuesday in Whittier, Riverside and Brentwood but were quickly controlled.

High temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds are also expected in portions of Northern California on Wednesday and Thursday.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. initially announced it might shut off power to up to 209,000 customers beginning as early as Wednesday evening amid heightened concerns that hot weather and strong winds could lead to wildfires. However, the utility has since decreased the number of affected customers to 189,000.

“While we’re closely monitoring the weather for conditions that could prompt a public safety power shut-off, no such event has been formally called for at this time,” Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s deputy incident commander, said at a news conference Tuesday evening. “We expect to make that decision tomorrow morning.”

The potential safety shutoff is planned for varying start times depending on location, according to the utility. It is expected to affect customers in portions of 17 counties in the Sierra Foothills and the North Bay — including Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Sonoma, Tehama and Yuba — as well as Kern and San Mateo counties. Tehama County was added Tuesday night.


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