A Santa Ana wind event combined with near-record low fuel moisture posed a substantial fire threat
through last weekend.
The National Weather Service had forecast a Red Flag warning from early Friday morning, Oct. 4 through Sunday evening, Oct. 6.
Besides the immediate threat that the weekend’s winds created, fire officials are concerned about it recurring until late November, despite predictions of moisture — including snow — midweek. In its three-month weather prediction, Cal Fire’s Southern Operations unit in Riverside forecast multiple Santa Ana events before winter arrives.
“From October through November, there may be two- to three-day Santa Ana winds every six to eight days,” said Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins.
“Across the southern part of the state, relief from the parched fuel conditions will remain elusive through October and much of November. But wetting rains should arrive by the middle to latter portion of November with greenup occurring shortly afterward,” the Predictive Services unit reported in its latest “Seasonal Outlook.”
“However, the prospect of a third drier-than-average winter in a row will likely increase the drought condition which is already at … extreme levels over much of Southern California.”
In anticipation of the potential fire danger this past weekend, state and federal fire agencies took several actions to prepare and augment protection in the region, including the Hill.
“Here in Southern California there is additional risk of fire,” said Dan Felix, San Jacinto Ranger District fire chief. He was talking to his state and local colleagues during last week’s Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting. Federal fire suppression staff were exempted from the current federal government shutdown.
“For our neighbors to the north, their threat is lessening so we’re moving resources here where
we think they’ll be needed,” Felix stated.
An extra hotshot crew and extra patrols were on the San Jacinto district over the weekend. Also, an extra strike team and additional Type 2 helicopters were assigned to the San Bernardino National Forest, according to Felix.
Cal Fire also increased its staffing here, according to Hawkins. Four more Type 3 engines, more dozers and an additional air tanker for Hemet-Ryan Airbase were moved here.
“You can never reclaim getaway time,” Hawkins said, explaining why these resources would be moved. If a fire starts, the initial attack would be intense and immediate. Because of the low fuel moisture and relative humidity, fire officials wanted to minimize the time to bring resources to bear on the potential fire.
“All of our people are aware of the situation and primed and prepared to be called in,” said Idyllwild Fire Capt. James Reyes. He added that another two firefighters had been on duty in case of a fire.
The Cal Fire’s predictive services unit at the Southern Operations in Riverside advised, “The gusty northeast winds may extend well above the valley floors to include elevations above 8,000 feet in Southern California, which is significantly higher in elevation than the surface winds typically produced during offshore wind events.”