Santa Ana winds bring critical fire danger, red flag warning to Southern California

A helicopter makes a water drop on a fire.
A helicopter makes a water drop on the eastern flank of the Alisal fire along upper Refugio Canyon on Thursday. Santa Ana winds are forecast for Southern California, bringing elevated fire risks to the area.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

As the Alisal fire smolders in Santa Barbara County, residents in Los Angeles and Ventura counties on Friday were bracing for the arrival of critical fire weather and the threat of Santa Ana winds.

A red flag warning signaling warm temperatures, dry conditions and fearsome gusts went into effect at 6 a.m. and was slated to last through 8 p.m. Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

It’s the kind of weather that fire officials fear most: when a single spark can quickly become a wildfire that grows out of control. The region’s record-hot summer and worsening drought have only helped to bake the state’s vegetation and prime it to ignite.


Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that “everybody’s on high alert” as winds gained strength Friday morning.

“We’ve seen it happen before with wildfires during Santa Ana events,” Sirard said. “If any fire breaks out, it could bring extremely dangerous conditions with rapid spread and very intense activity.”

The Santa Anas are expected to deliver 30 to 45 mph gusts across a range of areas, including the Malibu Coast, the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, with some isolated gusts as strong as 55 mph, he said.

Temperatures were slated to climb into the high 80s and low 90s across much of the Los Angeles area — considerably above normal for this time of year, Sirard said. And humidity was set to “drop like a rock” to 6% to 12%.

Officials said the red flag conditions are being driven by a strengthening offshore flow beneath a high-pressure system.


The Los Angeles County Fire Department advised residents to prepare their homes and families for the elevated threat of fire. Preparations include identifying evacuation routes, assembling emergency supply kits and clearing vegetation and combustible materials away from homes and structures.

The blaze has sent toxic smoke billowing southeast of Santa Barbara, triggering air quality advisories in Los Angeles and other counties.

Oct. 14, 2021

Sirard said residents also should take care not to create any kinds of sparks, including the use of fireworks. (Luckily, the Dodgers won before the red flag warning arrived.)

Santa Ana wind events can also prompt planned power shutoffs, which are typically performed in an effort to prevent utility equipment from sparking a blaze.

Some shutoffs were already underway in the Bakersfield area, according to Pacific Gas & Electric. No SoCal Edison customers were affected Friday morning.

Fire crews have made good progress on the Alisal fire burning in Santa Barbara County, which on Friday was 41% contained after burning about 17,000 acres since Monday.

Poor air quality linked to the fire was expected to improve Friday, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Several smaller fires also threatened the state this week, including a Sacramento blaze that destroyed 30 structures and a fire near an oil refinery in Los Angeles.

But there is some good news on the horizon: The extended forecast for the Los Angeles area shows a “decent chance” for above-normal precipitation next week, the weather service said.

The Southland just has to get through the Santa Ana wind event first, forecasters said.