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Southern California could face most dangerous fire weather yet over holiday | California

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Southern California is bracing for what might be the most dangerous fire weather event of the year.

Utility companies are considering shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of residents as warm temperatures, howling winds and low humidity descend on the region, increasing ignition risks during the holiday weekend.

Isolated wind gusts are expected to reach up to 70mph in the foothills and mountains while humidity levels sink to single-digits, falling as low as 2% by Thursday. Officials have sounded the alarm hoping that both residents – and their guests – will be ready to evacuate should a fast-moving fire erupt nearby.

“The public needs to be extra cautious with anything that could start a fire,” the National Weather Service wrote in a forecast discussion, adding that the region could see the strongest Santa Ana wind event yet this season.

“Those living near fire prone undeveloped areas, like the national forests, should make or review the family plan including what to take and evacuation routes in the event of an evacuation order is issued or a nearby wildfire threatens,” the warning added. “This is especially important with unaware visitors during the holiday week.”

Southern California Edison, which supplies energy to 5m households and businesses through the region, announced that it was considering cutting power to more than 151,000 customers in six counties over concerns of the heightened risks. San Diego Gas & Electric is also considering power shutoffs for more than 43,000 customers. As of Wednesday morning, no power shutoffs had been issued by either utility.

The climate crisis has increased temperatures and desiccation in the American west, lengthening the fire season. Though northern California was hit by a deluge of rain in October, dampening the fire risks there, the Golden State remains mired in drought. More than 80% of California was categorized in “extreme drought” this week by the US Drought Monitor, with huge swaths of land in the southern and central part of the state cast under “exceptional drought” – the highest category.

The parched plants that grow in the region are already primed to burn, but accompanied by strong wind and low air-moisture, these critically dangerous conditions can quickly turn ignitions into infernos.

“NorCal is, largely, out of the woods this year when it comes to large/fast-moving wildfire potential thanks to widespread heavy October rainfall,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a tweet. “But same is not true in SoCal, where very little rain has fallen in recent weeks and vegetation is still very dry.”





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