Wind gusts top 90 mph, sending ash and smoke across Southern California
The strongest Santa Ana winds of the year not only fueled wildfires in Orange County but brought unhealthful air quality to parts of the Los Angeles Basin and San Gabriel Valley as ash from the Bobcat fire blew into neighborhoods.
The powerful winds, which included gusts that topped 90 mph at at least one location, toppled big rigs in the Inland Empire and forced officials to briefly close Ontario International Airport. Dan Gregoria, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in San Diego, said gusts at the airport on Monday had clocked in as high as 70 mph.
Santa Anas are expected to return early Tuesday before dying off in the afternoon, Gregoria added.
The winds fueled two big fires — in Irvine and Yorba Linda — and that sent smoke into many parts of Orange County.
But officials believe the poor air quality in Los Angeles County had a different cause.
The particles were probably from the nearly contained Bobcat fire, which has been burning for more than a month in the Angeles National Forest, a forest spokesman said.
The fast-moving, wind-driven Silverado fire was burning in the hills north of Irvine on Monday, closing major roads and threatening homes.
The Bobcat fire has scorched more than 115,000 acres, leaving a forest floor carpeted in gray, burned flecks of brush and trees. With winds whipping through Los Angeles County at gusts up to 60 mph, ash is being carried into East L.A. and nearby cities, Angeles National Forest spokesman Andrew Mitchell said.
“It would be easy to extrapolate that we have a major fire of 115,000 acres, that wind blowing down from that northeast direction is going to push that [ash] down into the southern part of L.A. County,” Mitchell said, adding that the Bobcat fire is 95% contained.
He also said it’s possible the ash could be coming from the El Dorado fire farther east.
Here’s how to interpret the air quality numbers you see when you look at air quality maps or readouts on smartphone weather apps.
In some mountain ridges, winds are in the upper 70 mph range, with 96-mph gusts recorded in the Magic Mountain Truck Trail, according to the National Weather Service.
Powerful winds also pounded Northern California, prompting Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to shut off power to about 361,000 customers in the weather-weary region.
Strong Diablo winds continued Monday in the area surrounding the Sacramento Valley, most of the Sierra, parts of southern Kern County and the mountainous regions of the Bay Area, including the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Red flag warnings are in place for most of Northern California. A warning for the North Bay Mountains and the East Bay Hills is in place through Tuesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.
A 94-mph gust blew through part of Tahoe overnight, and Mt. Saint Helena saw gusts at 89 mph, according to the weather service.
“It’s been very dry,” National Weather Service meteorologist Anna Schneider said. “We’ve been kind of lucky here. We haven’t had any major fires starting overnight in our area. But it’s certainly dry enough.”
A few small fires did ignite, but emergency responders were able to snuff them out before they grew, she said. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection units for San Mateo and Santa Cruz reported downed trees in Half Moon Bay.
Once the fierce offshore winds taper off Tuesday, lower temperatures are expected to roll in, making for cooler nights in parts of the Bay Area, Schneider said.
The fast-moving Silverado fire broke out in Orange County on Monday and quickly grew to more than 7,000 acres. Southern California Edison says its equipment may be to blame. A second blaze started hours later in Corona and forced evacuations in Yorba Linda.
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