Fierce Santa Ana winds blew across the Southland Thursday amid very low humidity, raising fears of wildfires and prompting Southern California Edison to begin precautionary power shutoffs affecting thousands of customers in Los Angeles County and other areas.
At 3 a.m., a red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service and denoting critical fire weather conditions went into effect in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area, the San Gabriel Mountains, the Angeles National Forest, the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Santa Clarita valleys and the Los Angeles area, including the coast, metropolitan L.A., downtown L.A. and the Hollywood Hills, along with much of Ventura County.
The red flag warning is scheduled to remain in effect until 6 p.m. Friday.
In the mountains, northeast winds blew at sustained speeds of 25-45 mph, gusting at 75 mph, according to the NWS. In the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, northeast winds blew at speeds of 20-35 mph, along with 55-mph gusts. And in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, northeast winds of 20-30 mph were reported, along with 50-mph gusts.
In Chatsworth, power lines fell in the area of Devonshire Street between Topanga Canyon Boulevard and De Soto Avenue, prompting street closures. It was unclear how many customers may have lost power due to the downed lines. No injuries were reported.
At 8 a.m. in the city of Los Angeles, Red Flag parking restrictions mandated by the Los Angeles Fire Department went into effect for 24 hours “or until further notice” in areas of the city that have been posted as being within the “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones.”
The program is designed to remove parked vehicles from areas such as those with very narrow roads, hairpin turns, tight curves and key intersections that, if not cleared of vehicles, would create a “choke point” for emergency vehicles, according to the LAFD.
The strongest winds were expected from mid-morning to mid-afternoon Thursday, and again Friday morning, amid humidity levels of 3-10% and very dry vegetation providing an abundance of potential wildfire fuel, the NWS reported, adding it may be necessary to extend the red flag warning into Saturday.
“If fire ignition occurs, conditions will be favorable for extreme fire behavior, which would threaten life and property,” the NWS warned.
Also in force until 6 p.m. Friday is a red flag warning in inland Orange County, including the Santa Ana mountains, with forecasters warning of east-to-northeast winds of 20 to 35 mph, gusting to 50 mph, with isolated 70-mph gusts in mountain areas.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services pre-positioned additional firefighters and equipment in areas identified as having elevated risk of wind-driven wildfires.
County fire officials noted that 90% of wildfires are caused by human activity, and they urged people to call 9-1-1 at the first sign of smoke or fire. The agency invited residents to consult its website at www.fire.lacounty.gov for steps on how to prepare and safely evacuate well ahead of a wildfire.
Southern California Edison, meanwhile, cautioned that thousands of customers throughout its service area could lose power due to “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” aimed at reducing fire risks. The shutoffs are conducted during extreme fire conditions — de-energizing power lines that might be damaged in high winds and spark wildfires. Nearly 174,000 customers are in areas that are “under consideration” for power cuts.
By midday, Edison had cut power to about 12,900 customers in Los Angeles, Ventura, Kern and San Bernardino counties. In Los Angeles County, the power cuts primarily affected northern areas such as Palmdale, Acton and Agua Dulce.
Edison officials noted earlier that roughly 49,000 customers in Los Angeles County were facing possible cuts, in areas such as Lancaster, Santa Clarita, Lake Hughes and Canyon Country. La Crescenta/Montrose, Malibu, Glendale, Covina, Azusa, San Fernando, Chatsworth and San Fernando are also in the potentially affected area.
In Orange County, about 7,250 customers are in potential power-cut areas, including those in Rancho Santa Margarita, Orange, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Tustin, Irvine, Silverado Canyon, Modjeska and Villa Park.
Malibu officials said earlier this week that SCE had given the city a 48-hour notice that a Public Safety Power Shutoff may be implemented that could affect Western Malibu beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday and continuing until 9 a.m. Friday. The city urged people who are medically dependent on electricity service to consider staying in another area until conditions change.
Edison urged residents to check on family members and neighbors who may need assistance in case of a power outage. If a PSPS is implemented, once hazardous conditions have passed it could take 24 to 72 hours to re-energize circuits because SCE must first inspect all power lines in the affected area to ensure they are safe to re-energize.
Along with the red flag warning, a high wind warning will be in effect until 3 p.m. Friday.
“Damaging winds may blow down trees and power lines. Widespread power outages are possible. Travel will be difficult, especially for high profile vehicles,” the NWS warned. “Use extra caution when driving, especially if operating a high-profile vehicle. Secure outdoor objects.”
Additionally, “people should avoid being outside in forested areas and around trees and branches. If possible, remain in the lower levels of your home during the windstorm, and avoid windows. Use caution if you must drive.”
In the Antelope Valley, a freeze watch will be in force from late Thursday night through Friday morning, with temperatures as low as 28 degrees expected.
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