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Power shutoffs hit Southern California amid red flag warnings

A crew fighting the Blue Ridge fire walks single file up a hill
A crew fighting the Blue Ridge fire walks single file up a hill above Chino Hills on Oct. 27.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Power utilities across Southern California preemptively shut off power Wednesday to reduce the risk of wildfires as gusty winds created hazardous conditions in the region.

Southern California Edison had shut off power to more than 17,000 customers in six counties — including Kern, Los Angeles and San Bernardino — by Wednesday evening.

More than 163,000 additional customers are under consideration for shutoffs, according to the utility. Residents can enter their address here to see if they are affected.

“We work to restore power within 24 hours after wind passes,” said Taelor Bakewell, a spokeswoman for the utility. “We need to have line crews inspect the circuit. In some hard-to-access areas, that includes using helicopters or foot patrols.”

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San Diego Gas & Electric also shut off power to several hundred customers and said more than 31,000 could be affected. The outages were listed on the utility’s website.

Christmas week has brought red flag warnings to Southern California, with a wildfire threat likely to last until noon Thursday.

The forecast calls for gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity that will create dangerous conditions in the area.

“Since we also haven’t seen really any rain this winter, the vegetation is still pretty dry as well, so that’s why we’re still talking about fire weather even this late in the season,” said Kristen Stewart, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Los Angeles. “Usually by [now], we have some sort of rain to alleviate the fire season.”

Santa Ana winds are expected to peak late Wednesday in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with gusts between 40 and 60 mph in some areas, according to the weather service. The strongest winds are expected in the Santa Clarita Valley, eastern Ventura County valleys and the northern San Fernando Valley. Humidity is also dropping in the already-dry region to a low of 3% in some areas.

The weather service in San Diego also issued a red flag warning through noon Christmas Eve for Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The most extreme conditions will be in inland mountains and valleys, with gusts up to 60 mph around Cajon Pass, San Gorgonio Pass and the foothills, said meteorologist Samantha Connolly, while most areas will see winds of 30 to 40 mph.

“The winds are really picking up through the passes and over the foothills,” Connolly said. “It kind of comes down the mountain.”

This year marked California’s worst wildfire season on record, with more than 4 million acres burned, topping a decade that has seen eight of the 10 largest fires in the state’s history.

Many of this season’s fires, such as the Bobcat fire in Angeles National Forest and the Blue Ridge fire in Orange County, burned amid similar conditions, fueled by dry vegetation and fierce winds.

The combination of strong winds and dry fuels makes for ripe fire conditions, as a stray spark can ignite a fast-spreading wildfire.

“Use extreme caution with potential fire ignition sources,” the weather service said in announcing the red flag warning. “This is the time to get set with assembling your emergency supply kit and knowing your evacuation route.”

Heavy winds can topple trees and power lines and create hazardous driving conditions, the weather service warned.


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