U.S. Forest Service rangers Wednesday rescinded all scheduled controlled burns in the San Bernardino National Forest around Idyllwild because of increasing easterly winds, which are expected to persist into next week.
“Prescribed burning is an important activity for the long-term health and wellness of the forest, but when a heightened fire danger returns, we need to switch gears and be ready for the possibility of significant fire activity,” USFS Fire Chief Jaime Gamboa said.
Crews had planned to conduct operations within the Cranston burn scar in the San Jacinto Mountains, north of Mountain Center and south of Idyllwild. However, after the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for the Inland Empire, the Forest Service scratched those plans.
Now USFS crews are on standby alert, prepared for possible fire outbreaks, according to USFS spokesman Zach Behrens.
The Red Flag Warning is in effect from 4 p.m. Thursday to 4 p.m. Friday, with 30 to 40 mph gusts possible in the valleys, and 55 mph gusts forecast in passes and canyons.
Humidity levels are expected to drop into the single digits, meaning tinder box dry conditions, according to meteorologists.
“A period of weaker Santa Ana winds is expected late Saturday into Sunday morning, followed by a period of potentially stronger Santa Ana winds early next week,” according to an NWS statement. “Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly.”
The wind events coincide with a general warm-up across the region, with temperatures in the Riverside metropolitan area predicted to be in the mid to upper 80s — 20 degrees above average for this time of year — from Thursday to Sunday.
There was no word on when controlled burning operations may resume in the San Bernardino National Forest, where crews are slated to reduce 1,300 acres of excess vegetation before spring.