Strong Santa Ana winds are expected in the Inland Empire Thursday and Friday, raising the threat of wildfires and prompting potential power shutoffs for tens of thousands of customers in an attempt to limit the risk of accidental fires.
The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning, in effect until 5 p.m. Friday in the Riverside County mountains and valleys, with the fiercest winds likely Thursday morning.
The agency said sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph are expected, but gusts could reach 75 mph in mountains and narrow passes, including the San Gorgonio Pass, where a 1,000-acre wildfire destroyed 75 mobile homes and other structures and caused the deaths of two people in Calimesa less than two weeks ago.
Daytime humidity could drop as low as 5% Thursday and high temperatures in the inland region will reach the low 90s, exacerbating fire hazards.
The NWS also issued a high-wind warning that will be in effect in the county valleys until 2 p.m. Friday. Officials warned that damaging winds could blow down trees and power lines, while travel will be especially difficult for high-profile vehicles.
Southern California Edison officials said the utility is considering precautionary power shutoffs that could potentially affect more than 50,000 customers in the Inland Empire. The shutoffs would be implemented to de-energize power lines in danger of being damaged or downed by strong winds, potentially sparking wildfires.
As of 8 a.m., 133 customers in the Mountain Center area were without power due to unsafe conditions, according to the utility.
Areas that could also face precautionary power shutoffs include Banning, Beaumont, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Hemet, San Jacinto, Menifee, Perris, Corona, the northern section of Lake Perris, Lakeview, Nuevo, Lake Elsinore, Temecula, Lakeview Hot Springs, Cabazon, Med Valley, Goodhope, Eden Hot Springs, Juniper Flats, Gilman Hot Springs, Big Oaks Canyon, Owl, portions of the Desert Hills Outlet Mall, a section of Banning southwest of Cabazon, another section northeast of Banning and Whitewater Canyon.
The winds are expected to remain strong through midday Friday, then gradually taper off during the afternoon, forecasters said.