A Cal Fire San Diego truck at the scene of a brush fire. File photo courtesy of Cal Fire

With unseasonable heat and strong Santa Ana winds expected in the San Diego area through the end of the workweek, local firefighting crews were on high alert Thursday.

Utility officials meanwhile shut off power to nearly 8,000 East County homes and businesses in an effort to prevent wildfires from starting.

To alert the public to the combustion hazards posed by the hot and windy conditions, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning, in effect until 5 p.m. Friday in the mountains and valleys. During the period, sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph were expected, with gusts up to 65 mph near mountain ridge tops.

The fiercest winds are likely to hit late Thursday evening and early Friday, the weather service advised.

Daytime humidity levels, meanwhile, could drop as low as 5%, and high temperatures in some inland areas will hover in the mid- to high 90s.

The weather service also issued a high-wind warning that will be in effect in the county mountains and valleys from 8 p.m. Thursday until 2 p.m. Friday. Officials warned that the stiff winds could blow down trees and power lines, and might make driving dicey in some locales, particularly for those in RVs, tractor-trailers and other high-profile vehicles.

The strong winds will continue through Friday afternoon, then begin subsiding, forecasters said.

The predicted Santa Ana winds initially prompted San Diego Gas & Electric to notify roughly 24,000 customers of potential precautionary power shutoffs. By Thursday morning, that number had increased to nearly 42,000.

As of 2:30 p.m., 7,294 addresses were without power due to the pre- emptive outages in Alpine, Boulevard, Campo. Cuyamaca, Dehesa, Descanso, Dulzura, Guatay, Jacumba, Pine Valley, Potrero, Poway, Ramona and Santa Ysabel, SDG&E reported.

In response to the planned power-downs, the San Diego County Office of Education shuttered schools in the Mountain Empire Unified School District, between the Pine Valley and Morena Village areas.

Areas that could also be affected include Barona, Barrett Lake, Black Mountain Ranch, Coronado Hills, East Valley Center, Elfin Center, Julian, Lake Hodges, Mesa Grande, Mount Laguna, Palomar Mountain, east Poway, Ramona, the western portion of Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Santa Fe, San Marcos, Shelter Valley, Viejas and Warner Springs.

To help those affected by the blackouts, SDG&E established three community resource centers offering water and snacks, cellphone charging and information updates. The facilities were operating at 9545 River Drive in Descanso; 17606 Harrison Park Road in Julian; and 28890 Old Highway 80 in Pine Valley. For information only, the public was invited to visit Ramona Branch Library, 1275 Man St. in Ramona.

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.