Wildfire Threat Hangs over the Southland

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Powerful Santa Ana winds buffeted the Southland today and -- combined with relatively high temperatures, low humidity and the presence of very dry vegetation -- created the threat of wildfire, the National Weather Service said.

A red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service went into effect at midnight in the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles and Ventura counties and the forests stretching over the range -- the Angeles National Forest in L.A. County and Ventura County's Los Padres National Forest.

A red flag warning became operative at 3 a.m. in the Santa Monica mountains and Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys, and one went into force at 6 a.m. in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley and along the coast, in beach cities, metropolitan L.A. and the Hollywood Hills.

In all cases, the red flag warnings were to expire at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

As a precaution, a Los Angeles County fire strike team of firefighters was pre-deployed in the Santa Clarita Valley, a Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatcher said.

The threat of wildfire coincides with humidity levels of between 5 and 15 percent and what a National Weather Service statement called ``a moderate to strong Santa Ana wind event,'' with the strongest winds expected to peak this morning, especially across western L.A. County and eastern Ventura County.

``This surge of offshore winds will bring considerable drying to the region, with widespread humidity in the single digits and teens,'' according to the statement.

``The combination of moderate to strong Santa Ana winds, very low humidity, warm temperatures and very dry fuels will bring widespread critical fire weather conditions to the region, especially across much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. As a result, there will be an increased risk for fire ignitions and large fire growth, including rapid fire spread,'' the statement said.

The offshore winds will die down quickly Tuesday morning and make way for the onset of onshore winds by afternoon, forecasters said, adding that these winds combined with low humidity will keep the danger of wildfire elevated.

The NWS on day issued a fire weather watch for today in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys and the Los Angeles coastal zone stretching from Malibu to the Hollywood Hills but replaced it with the more serious red flag warning on Sunday.

A wind advisory will be in force until 6 p.m. in inland Orange County but in L.A. County, high wind warnings, indicating an expectation of 58-mph winds or gusts, will be in force along with the red flag warnings.

``Winds this strong may down trees and power lines, causing property damage or power outages,'' warned a NWS statement. It said cross winds could make driving difficult, especially on the 5, 23, 101, 118, 14, and 126 freeways and the canyon roads in the Santa Monica Mountains.

``When driving, use extra caution. Be prepared for sudden gusty cross winds,'' warned the statement.

In the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast winds are forecast to blow at between 30 and 45 miles per hour, with gusts of 60 to 70 mph, according to the NWS. In the Santa Monica mountains and Santa Clarita Valley, the wind will blow at between 25 and 40 mph and gust at 60 mph, with isolated gusts of 65 mph across the western peaks of the Santa Monicas.

In the San Fernando Valley, winds of between 20 and 30 mph were expected, along with 50-mph gusts, with the strongest winds likely along the 118 Freeway, forecasters said.

The NWS forecast partly cloudy skies in L.A. County today and highs of 69 on Mount Wilson; 73 in Palmdale and Lancaster; 82 in Avalon; 85 at LAX; 88 in Long Beach and Downtown L.A.; 86 in Woodland Hills; 87 in Pasadena and San Gabriel; and 88 in Burbank.

Sunny skies were forecast in Orange County, along with highs of 78 in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach; 81 in San Clemente; 87 in Mission Viejo; 88 in Yorba Linda and Irvine; 90 in Anaheim; and 91 in Fullerton.

Temperatures are forecast to decline in some communities on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but rise again starting Saturday.

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