Strong Santa Ana winds could create dangerous fire conditions in Southern California over the next several days.
The National Weather Service issued a high wind and fire watch for Wednesday evening through Saturday, with possible hurricane-speed gusts of 80 mph or more in the mountain passes of Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties. Gusts of more than 60 mph are possible in some lower-lying areas.
The winds, which could shape up to be the strongest offshore event the region has seen in years, are expected to reach their highest intensity Wednesday night through Friday morning, potentially toppling trees and power lines and creating hazardous driving conditions, as well as a significant fire hazard.
“If we do get some fire starts, there’s a period from Thursday morning through Thursday afternoon and night when we could have some rapid spread in those fires,” said Mark Jackson, meteorologist in charge at the weather service’s Oxnard office.
During the devastating California wildfires of October 2007, wind speeds reached more 100 mph, Jackson said. Gusts in some areas could reach those speeds this week, although for a shorter duration.
The conditions in 2007 were drier, but despite last week’s heavy rains, the weekend’s warm temperatures dried out much of the dead fuel that had been dampened.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Mark Savage said officials are monitoring the situation closely and are prepared to increase staffing.
As a precaution, the department also extended by one week its contract for two Canadian “super scooper” firefighting planes that the agency leases each year during the fall fire season. The planes had been scheduled to return to Canada on Tuesday.