A fire danger sign with the iconic Smokey Bear. Image courtesy Centers for Disease Control

San Diego County remained under a red flag warning for extreme fire danger Thursday as gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity combined to heighten the risk of wildfires and nearly 75,000 local utility customers had their electricity shut off as a precaution.

Extreme fire danger persisted throughout the San Diego area for a second day Thursday as gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity combined to heighten the risk of wildfires and utility officials shut off power for tens of thousands of inland homes and businesses as a precaution.

Due to the worrisome conditions — including humidity levels expected to dip below 10%, sustained 30-plus-mph winds and gusts of 60 mph or higher — the National Weather Service on Wednesday evening issued a “red flag” wildfire alert for local inland valley and highland areas, effective through 10 p.m. Saturday.

The most intensive critical fire-weather conditions are expected to last into Friday, meteorologists advised.

As of late Thursday morning, peak wind gusts had reached 95 mph on Big Black Mountain in Mesa Grande; 93 mph at Sill Hill; 84 mph in Hellhole Canyon; and 77 mph in Boulder Creek, Horse Launch and the Hauser Mountain area, according to the NWS.

In response to the extremely arid and windy conditions, San Diego Gas & Electric shut off power to 70,613 addresses in particularly at-risk inland communities due to combustion hazards posed by transmission equipment. By mid- afternoon, improving weather had allowed SDG&E to reduce that number to 65,601, though about 29,000 customers remained on notice for potential power-downs, the utility reported.

Because of the planned power outages, schools in the Alpine Union School District, Dehesa School District and Warner Unified School District announced they would be closed through the day, according to the San Diego County Office of Education.

Closed due to the power outages as well as road closures were four campuses in Cajon Valley Union School District and two in Lakeside Union School District — Hillsdale Middle, Jamacha Elementary, Rancho San Diego Elementary, Vista Grande Elementary, Eucalyptus Hills and Lakeside Farms.

Schools in the Poway Unified School District were also closed Thursday because of the power outages, including Abraxas High, Garden Elementary, Meadowbrook Middle, Painted Rock Elementary, Pomerado Elementary and Poway High.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, SDG&E opened community resource centers in the communities of Descanso, Lake Morena, Pine Valley, Julian, Fallbrook, Dulzura, Warner Springs, Potrero, Ramona and Valley Center. Those centers will remain open until 10 p.m. and offer access to water, WiFi, ice, snacks, phone and medical device charging, water trucks for livestock and up-to-date information on outages.

The exact locations of the community resource centers can be found at: www.sdge.com/public-safety-power-shutoff.

The dry and windy weather pattern is likely to continue into next week, though likely in a weakened manner, forecasters said.

A brush fire broke out in the unincorporated Rancho San Diego area near El Cajon late Wednesday and blackened 50 acres by Thursday morning. By 2 a.m., authorities announced progress of the flames had been stopped. As of 8 a.m., the blaze, dubbed the Willow Fire, was 50% contained.

The fire was reported about 10 p.m. Wednesday in the 2800 block of Willow Glen Drive and precautionary evacuations were underway for residents in the 2500 block of Wind River Road, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. All evacuation warnings were lifted by 3:45 a.m. Thursday.

Updated at 3:25 p.m. Dec. 3, 2020

— City News Service

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