Strong Santa Ana winds place San Diego County under wildfire warning

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – San Diego County remained under a red flag warning for extreme fire danger Thursday, as gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity combined to heighten the risk of wildfires and nearly 75,000 local utility customers had their electricity shut off as a precaution.

Humidity levels dipping below 10%, sustained 30-plus-mph winds and gusts of 60 mph or higher will create “extremely critical” combustion hazards Thursday in local mountain communities into the early afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Affected highland areas include those east of Chula Vista, El Cajon, Escondido and Fallbrook.

The warning was effective from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 10 p.m. Saturday for local inland valley and highland areas. The most intensive critical fire- weather conditions were expected to last through Friday morning, meteorologists advised.

As of 7:15 a.m. Thursday, peak wind gusts had reached 95 mph on Big Black Mountain in Mesa Grande, followed by 93 mph at Sill Hill, 84 mph in Hellhole Canyon and 77 mph in Boulder Creek, Horse Launch and Hauser Mountain, according to the NWS.

San Diego Gas & Electric on Tuesday notified about 88,700 of its customers in inland communities that they could be subject to public safety power shutoffs from Wednesday night into the weekend, and potentially through Monday. As of late Thursday morning, 70,613 customers had their power shut off, with another 24,541 under consideration for shutoffs, according to the SDG&E web site.

Because of the precautionary power shutoffs, schools in the Alpine Union School District, Dehesa School District and Warner Unified School District announced they would be closed Thursday, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.

Four schools in the Cajon Valley Union School District and two schools in the Lakeside Union School District were closed Thursday due to power outages and road closures. Those schools are Hillsdale Middle, Jamacha Elementary Rancho San Diego Elementary, Vista Grande Elementary, Eucalyptus Hills and Lakeside Farms.

Schools in the Poway Unified School District were also closed Thursday because of the power outages, including Abraxas High, Garden Elementary, Meadowbrook Middle, Painted Rock Elementary, Pomerado Elementary and Poway High.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, SDG&E opened community resource centers in the communities of Descanso, Lake Morena, Pine Valley, Julian, Fallbrook, Dulzura, Warner Springs, Potrero, Ramona and Valley Center. Those centers will remain open until 10 p.m. and offer access to water, Wi-Fi, ice, snacks, phone and medical device charging, water trucks for livestock and up-to-date information on outages.

The exact locations of the community resource centers can be found at: www.sdge.com/public-safety-power-shutoff.

The dry and windy weather pattern is likely to continue into next week, though likely in a weakened manner, forecasters said.

A brush fire broke out in the unincorporated Rancho San Diego area near El Cajon late Wednesday and blackened 50 acres by Thursday morning. By 2 a.m., authorities announced progress of the flames had been stopped. As of 8 a.m., the Willow Fire was 50% contained.

The fire was reported about 10 p.m. Wednesday in the 2800 block of Willow Glen Drive and precautionary evacuations were underway for residents in the 2500 block of Wind River Road, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. All evacuation warnings were lifted by 3:45 a.m. Thursday.

No injuries were immediately reported and details about what sparked the blaze were not immediately available.

Categories: Local San Diego News, Weather, Wildfires