Map of red-flag areas in San Diego County. Image via National Weather Service

Strong Santa Ana winds and extremely dry air led to significantly heightened wildfire danger Wednesday across the San Diego area.

To alert the public to the combustion hazards, the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning that will be in effect until 6 p.m. Thursday in the county mountains and valleys.

San Diego Gas & Electric officials said the utility was considering precautionary power shutoffs for more than 40,000 customers. The shutoffs would be implemented to de-energize power lines in danger of being damaged or downed by strong winds, potentially sparking wildfires.

Winds out of the east and northeast were expected to be between 25-35 mph over the period, with gusts reaching 55 mph in the valleys and 75 mph near mountain ridge tops, forecasters said. Relative humidity will drop as low as 5%, with poor overnight recovery expected through Friday.

The winds increased Wednesday morning but were expected to decrease Wednesday evening through Thursday morning, according to the NWS.

The fire threat was deemed high, according to the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index, which means that “upon ignition, fires will grow very rapidly, will burn intensely and will be very difficult to control.”

A high-wind warning will also be in effect until 6 p.m. Thursday in the county mountains and valleys. Officials warned that damaging winds could blow down trees and power lines, while travel will be especially difficult for high-profile vehicles.

As of 2:15 p.m., SDG&E had shut off power to 25,500 homes and businesses in Alpine, Boulevard, Campo, Descanso, Dulzura, portions of El Cajon, portions of Encinitas, portions of Escondido, Fallbrook, portions of Jamul, Julian, Mount Laguna, Pala, Pauma Valley, Pine Valley, Potrero, Poway, Rainbow, Ramona, portions of Rancho Bernardo, portions of Rancho Santa Fe, an unincorporated area east of San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ysabel and Valley Center.

An additional 15,369 addresses faced potential precautionary power- downs in Jacumba, portions of Lakeside, Palomar Mountain, Ranchita, and unincorporated areas east of San Clemente, portions of San Marcos and Warner Springs.

If power is shut off for an extended period of time, SDG&E may open community resource centers where residents can get water and snacks, charge their phones and get up-to-date information about the outages.

A full list of the center locations can be found at: www.sdge.com/wildfire-safety/community-resource-center.

The San Diego County Office of Education, meanwhile, announced that campuses in the Dehesa School District, Mountain Empire Unified School District, Rancho Santa Fe School District, Spencer Valley School District, Warner Unified School District and all schools in Julian would be closed Wednesday because of the power shutoffs.

Conway Elementary and Del Lago Academy in Escondido, along with Double Peak Elementary, San Elijo Elementary and San Elijo Middle School in San Marcos were also closed in anticipation of power shutoffs, said Music Watson, a spokeswoman with the county Office of Education.

Updated at 3:05 p.m. Oct. 30, 2019

— City News Service

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Chris Jennewein

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