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Fall blast of heat and wind heightens California fire danger

Spraying water rains down on Laura Martinez, 8, at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley.
Laura Martinez, 8, of Santa Ana cools off at a Fountain Valley park on Sept. 7. More high temperatures are expected to bake California this week.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

More unseasonably warm weather is on tap for California this week, with officials warning that a combination of high temperatures and gusty winds will heighten fire danger throughout much of the state.

The menacing meteorological mix invokes an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu for a state that has already shattered numerous records during an unprecedented fire season.

The latest heat wave is expected Tuesday through Friday, boosting the mercury 10 to 20 degrees above normal, according to David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

In the Southland, that means highs from the lower to mid-80s at the beaches and the 90s inland, with valleys reaching the mid to upper 90s. The hottest spots are expected to crack triple digits.

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A heat advisory is in effect for much of the region from 11 a.m. Tuesday until 5 p.m. Friday.

Health officials stressed that residents should stay hydrated, wear lightweight, light-colored clothing and check in on those most vulnerable to the heat’s effects — including older adults, pregnant women and those who live alone.

Officials also said residents should abstain from strenuous outdoor activities while wearing masks or face coverings that aren’t normally meant for athletic use.

“High temperatures are not just an inconvenience, they can be dangerous and even deadly. But we can protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors if we take steps to remain cool and hydrated,” Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a statement.

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“It is critically important to never leave children, elderly people or pets unattended in homes with no air conditioning and particularly in vehicles — even if the windows are ‘cracked’ or open — as temperatures inside can quickly rise to life-threatening levels. If you have an elderly or infirm neighbor who is without air conditioning, check on them throughout the day.”

After a brief reprieve of cool temperatures over the weekend, Southern California is expected to get hit with another heat wave this week that could bring periods of elevated fire risk, according to forecasters.

Though it will undoubtedly be warm, Sweet said Tuesday that the upcoming heat event doesn’t look like an all-timer for areas in and around Los Angeles County.

“I don’t think we’re looking at record-high temperatures,” he said, “but definitely well above normal.”

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Other areas of the state may not escape that distinction, however. The city of Ukiah, as well as northern coastal areas, could see record temperatures Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Another unwelcome guest is also expected to join the heat later this week.

Though it’s not yet clear how strong they will be, Sweet said, “Santa Ana type” winds are expected to whip up Thursday and Friday — a combustible combination in Southern California.

“Even now, without the wind, we’re in a situation where fire danger is elevated,” he said, “and we’re instructing people to be very careful about doing anything that could potentially start a fire.”

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The danger isn’t limited to the Southland. Much of Northern California will be under a red flag warning — signifying critical fire weather conditions — from Wednesday morning though early Friday as the dangerous confluence of low humidity and gusty winds will make it easier for fires to both start and spread.

The warning covers a wide stretch of the already fire-besieged region, reaching from north of Redding southeast into the Sierra foothills as well as down into the northern Bay Area mountains and valleys, east Bay hills and valleys and Santa Cruz Mountains in the San Francisco Bay Area.

During periods of heightened fire danger, officials say it’s particularly important to ward off wayward sparks. Avoiding activities that involve open flames, keeping vehicles off dry grass, obeying burn bans and properly discarding cigarettes can all help keep new fires from igniting.

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Given the forecast, the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has warned that power shutoffs are possible starting Wednesday — and could potentially affect about 50,000 customers in parts of 21 counties.

“The highest probability areas ... are the Northern Sierra Nevada foothills; the mid and higher elevations in the Sierra generally north of Yosemite; the North Bay mountains near Mt. St. Helena; small pockets in the East Bay near Mt. Diablo; the Oakland Hills east of Piedmont; the elevated terrain east of Milpitas around the Calaveras Reservoir; and portions of the Santa Cruz and Big Sur mountains,” utility officials wrote in a statement earlier this week. “This is not expected to be a widespread event in the Bay Area at this time.


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