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Santa Ana winds elevate fire dangers in SoCal

October 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Strong Santa Ana winds are raising fire dangers across Southern California, putting local firefighters on alert.

A red flag warning is in effect in several areas including Los Angeles and Ventura counties and the Santa Clarita Valley until 3 p.m. Thursday. For San Bernardino and east Orange counties and the Riverside Valleys, the warning was set to be in effect until 2 p.m.

Strong wind gusts up to 45 mph from the northeast will eventually dwindle toward the afternoon.

Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Services as well as the Orange County Fire Authority said they're staffed and ready if a fire does break out.

Fire officials said residents need to take precautions to avoid starting a fire, be careful if you're using heavy equipment and don't throw cigarette butts out of the window because there is a lot of dry brush throughout Southern California.

"Don't be fooled. A lot of residents think because we had the rains, the grasses are wet and moist. The Santa Ana winds can come through here and dry out those grasses very quickly which can burn rapidly if we do get a fire established in the grass," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Marc Stone.

Low humidity levels are also of concern to firefighters. There's plenty of brush to burn, even in the areas scorched in recent years.

"For the areas that have burned, a lot of what we call light, flashy fuels or grasses have grown back very quickly, and those are the fires that spread rapidly during a Santa Ana wind," explained Stone.

In L.A. County, water-dropping helicopters and two Super Scoopers on lease from Canada are on standby for an air attack if there is a Santa Ana wind-driven blaze. The fleet is based in Van Nuys and Whiteman airports.

Fire officials want residents to be as best prepared as possible.

"Assist us in protecting your home. Put a plan together so that if a fire breaks out, you are ready to activate that plan, and when you're called upon to evacuate the area, to evacuate the area quickly," advised Stone.

Blustering winds also ripped through parts of the Inland Empire Thursday, sending flags, trees and tumbleweeds into action in Fontana.

The strong winds had motorcyclists gripping their handle bars.

"Up in Victorville, it wasn't even windy, but when I got here, I was like, 'Oh my gosh,'" said Victorville resident Justin Carrigan.

The wind was so fierce heading north on the 15 Freeway, Apple Valley resident Helmuth VanKempen exited his Harley-Davidson at Sierra Avenue.

"I've never had the wind blow me off like that, you know? It got that scary. I got off the freeway. Usually, I just go right through," said VanKempen.

In addition to the wind, Thursday saw a mixed bag of weather including dry conditions and freezing cold temperatures.

Antelope Valley residents woke up to chilly temperatures dipping into the 30s early Thursday morning. The area was under a frost advisory, and residents bundled up as they headed out to work and school.

After the winds die down, temperatures in L.A. and Orange counties will hit the upper 70s, the I.E. and Valleys will reach 80s and the local mountains will see conditions in the lower 60s.

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