The battle to keep homes in Los Angeles from succumbing to wildfires will be complicated tonight when “epic” Santa Ana winds pick up. Forecasters are predicting gusts of 50 to 80 miles per hour in the mountains and valleys tonight through Friday.
“At 2 p.m., we saw the winds pick up. At 10 o’clock it will become an extreme wind situation again,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tells NBC4.
As of Wednesday afternoon neither blaze was significantly contained, though fire officials did say calmer conditions were helping them keep the fires at bay.
Increased wind speeds will “fuel the fires we already have in place and also make it critical for more fires to come,” says National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt.
The strength of the winds “can drive a fire in ways that is unimagined able for most of us,” says Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
Weather Service forecasters say wind speeds combined with “extremely low humidity” of 4 percent is a recipe for “very high fire danger.”
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas says the brush burning index for Thursday is higher than he’s ever seen it in his career. The department looks at past rainfall, the weather forecast, and “dead vegetation fuel moisture readings” to predict fire risk.
The highest rating is anything above 162. For tomorrow, it’s 296.
“Any area in Los Angeles that has brush is threatened,” says Garcetti. “We’re warning people even as we see progress, these are extreme conditions and embers can be carried as far as 1 mile, as we saw in Northern California.”
#SantaAnaWinds will continue to elevate fire danger in Southern CA with expectant winds reaching 80 mph on Thursday. Any new fires will have extreme levels of fire growth potential. Prepare now & be ready to GO! Learn more about evacuation preparedness: https://t.co/hHTBtHlGh9pic.twitter.com/Tm0X2Tui6r
— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) December 6, 2017
This summer, fire officials predicted that this year’s fire season could be a particularly smoky one for Southern California.
Heavy rains earlier this year meant a growth boom for plants that fuel wildfires. “It’s been at least 10 years since we’ve seen this kind of growth because of the rain, and the problem is that the grass is now dried out and it doesn’t take much to get a fire going,” Ventura County Fire Department Captain Richard Sauer told the Simi Valley Acorn in June.