Strong Santa Ana Winds to Howl Through Region Thursday, Friday

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) - High winds are forecast to return to the Inland Empire Thursday and Friday, raising the threat of wildfires in the region, where multiple blazes already caused major impacts this month.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning, in effect from 5 a.m. Thursday to 5 p.m. Friday, with the fiercest winds likely Thursday afternoon into the following morning.

``Current fires and any new fires may spread rapidly and exhibit extreme fire behavior,'' according to an NWS statement. ``Active burning (could continue) through (Thursday) night due to gusty winds and extremely dry conditions. Outdoor burning is not recommended. The strong winds could blow around unsecured objects and make driving high-profile vehicles more difficult.''

The agency said winds will generally blow 20-30 mph but warned that gusts in excess of 60 mph are possible 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.

According to the Weather Service, a ridge of high pressure digging in over the Great Basin will power the Santa Ana windstorm, which will begin to abate as a trough of low pressure displaces the anti-cyclonic flow going into the weekend.

Relative humidity is expected to fall below 10% during the wind event, exacerbating fire hazards.

High temperatures in the inland region will hover in the low 90s, according to meteorologists.

Local and state emergency declarations were issued for Riverside County on Oct. 11, immediately after or during the ``Sandalwood,'' ``Reche Canyon,'' ``Wolf'' and ``Eagle'' fires.

The deadly Sandalwood blaze caused the most damage after erupting about 2 p.m. on Oct. 10 in the area of Sandalwood Drive and Seventh Street, where a dump truck driver released a burning load, which was whipped into dry brush by easterly winds blowing over 40 mph.

The fire tore through the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, consuming most of the doublewide and single-wide trailers in or near the site, killing an 89-year-old woman and an as-yet identified second party. The blaze was stopped four days later just inside San Bernardino County.

In addition to the Calimesa wildfire, on Oct. 10, a 350-acre wind- driven blaze prompted evacuations and road closures in the Reche Canyon area, north of Moreno Valley. The fire, which remains under investigation, was contained two days later.

The 75-acre ``Wolf Fire'' briefly threatened properties four miles south of Banning, but that blaze was contained within a day. It was started by target shooters on private land along Wolfskill Truck Road, according to the fire department.

The ``Eagle Fire'' consumed nine acres before it was stopped in the area of Eagle Canyon and Cajalco roads southeast of Corona. The cause of that fire has not been determined.

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