Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index unveiled

ByABC7.com staff via KABC logo
Thursday, September 18, 2014
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The Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index will use weather modeling to rank fire danger in four zones during the hot, dry wind events.

GRIFFITH PARK, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The threat of wildfires when the Santa Ana winds blow multiplies. An online mapping tool has been unveiled that should help homeowners and first responders get a better idea of where fires are most likely to erupt during a Santa Ana wind event.

Predicting exactly when and where a wildfire will flare up is nearly impossible, but the U.S. Forest Service is trying to take at least some of the guesswork out of the equation.

U.S. Forest Service rangers, along with representatives from San Diego Gas & Electric and UCLA, jointly developed the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index, which was unveiled during a briefing at the USFS's Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center in Riverside Wednesday.

The Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index will use weather modeling and 30 years of data to rank fire danger in four zones during the hot, dry wind events. The purpose of the tool is to equip first responders and the public with information they need to be prepared for an emergency.

"This index categorizes Santa Ana winds with respect to fire potential," U.S. Forest Service meteorologist Tom Rolinski said.

The goal is to take the typical red-flag warnings for fire danger, and break them down to something easier to understand and much more specific.

"If you think about the analogy, if you live in the southeast, and there's a hurricane prediction and it's a Cat 1 hurricane, probably not a big deal, but if it's a Cat 5 hurricane, you're nailing up the plywood and getting ready to get out of town. We see this Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index very similar for the citizens here in Southern California," San Diego Gas & Electric Vice President David Geier said.

The new system will have four threat levels of wildfire danger: marginal danger, classified by the color yellow, moderate danger, classified by the color orange, high danger, classified by the color red, and extreme danger, classified by the color purple.

A beta version of the project accurately predicted fire activity in San Diego in May.

"It's worked very well for us," U.S. Forest Service Chief Bob Bell said. "We've been able to prepare for a couple past events, and it's with that tool we've been able to get the resources where they really should be."

The map will stretch from Santa Barbara to San Diego and include a six-day forecast.

The tool will also be available online so that the public can be aware of fire dangers around them.

"Through this index, we'll be able to communicate with the public on just the threat of wildfires, and how fast the fire could move with the Santa Ana winds," Geier said. "This really is going to be a game changer for the public."

CNS and The Associated Press contributed to this report.