A Santa Ana wind event that meteorologists expect to be the strongest of the season began Wednesday morning, combining with very low humidity and an abundance of dry vegetation to create “extreme” fire weather conditions, including wind gusts expected to reach 80 mph in the mountains.

What the National Weather Service is calling an “extreme red flag warning” went into effect at 11 p.m. Tuesday through 6 p.m. Thursday in much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“There is increasing confidence of a strong and damaging Santa Ana wind event late Tuesday evening through Thursday. The peak of the wind event is expected to be Wednesday when damaging wind gusts between 50 and 70 mph will be likely for the wind-pone areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with isolated gusts to 80 mph in the mountains.,” according to an NWS statement.

“This Santa Ana wind event will likely be the strongest we have seen so far this season. These strong winds combined with a long duration of single digit humidities (including very poor to no recoveries Wednesday night) and dry fuels will likely bring very critical fire weather conditions, making this an extreme red flag warning event.”

In light of the severe winds forecast, Southern California Edison warned that more than 300,000 customers throughout its service area could lose electricity due to so-called Public Safety Power Shutoffs. Under the program, power is cut to transmission lines in danger of being damaged by high winds in an effort to prevent wildfires.

As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, 17,802 customers in Los Angeles County were without power due to the program in the areas of La Canada, Palmdale, San Fernando and Santa Clarita, and unincorporated communities including Agua Dulce, Acton, Lincoln Crest, Newhall, Sylmar and Canyon Country.

SCE officials said the utility plans to cut power in the area of Kanan Dume Road and Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu between 6 p.m. and midnight Wednesday as a precaution.

According to Edison, 86,305 other customers in Los Angeles County are in areas being considered for potential power cuts, many in the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

More than 7,000 customers in Orange County could be affected, in areas such as Irvine, Lake Forest, Orange, Modjeska and Silverado.

An updated list can be found at www.sce.com/safety/wildfire/psps.

The red flag warning applies to the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the Angeles National Forest, the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County and the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area. Northeast winds will blow at 30 to 50 mph in those areas, accompanies by gusts of 60 to 70 mph and possibly 80 mph. The NWS said “slightly weaker” winds are expected Thursday.

“If fire ignition occurs, conditions will be favorable for extreme fire behavior, long range spotting, and very rapid fire spread, which would threaten life and property,” according to the statement. “The strength of the expected winds could result in downed trees and power lines as well as power outages.”

The warning also applies to the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys — areas where northeast winds are forecast to blow at 25 to 40 mph, with gusts of 50 to 60 mph.

In the San Gabriel Valley, beach cities, metropolitan L.A. and the Hollywood Hills — areas also under the red flag warning — winds of 20-30 mph were expected, along with 50 mph gusts.

Also starting late Monday and ending Thursday morning is a high wind watch in the same areas covered by the red flag warning.

In the Antelope Valley, a hard freeze watch was in effect from early Wednesday morning through Friday, with temperatures falling to 18 degrees, according to the NWS.

One thing working in firefighters’ favor on Wednesday will be the temperatures, which are expected to top out in the mid-70s.

Sunny skies were forecast in L.A. County Wednesday morning, along with highs of 58 in Lancaster; 59 in Palmdale; 60 on Mount Wilson; 64 in Saugus; 71 in Woodland Hills; 72 in San Gabriel and Burbank; 73 in Avalon; 75 in Pasadena; and 76 in Long Beach, Downtown L.A. and at LAX. It will be around five degrees warmer Thursday.

Sunny weather was forecast in Orange County Wednesday, along with highs of 52 on Santiago Peak; 64 on Ortega Highway at 2,600 feet; 70 in Fremont Canyon; 71 in Trabuco Canyon; 72 in Yorba Linda; 73 in Laguna Beach; 74 in Newport Beach, San Clemente and Anaheim; and 75 in Fullerton, Mission Viejo and Irvine. Temperatures will be up to six degrees higher in some communities on Thursday.

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