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California fire disaster may worsen as strong winds howl for multiple days

By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
November 13, 2018, 7:41:07 AM EST

A dangerous situation is unfolding across Southern California as a multi-day Santa Ana wind event threatens to worsen the already deadly and destructive firestorm early this week.

A pattern similar to what led to the rapid spread of the Camp and Woolsey fires late last week has returned.

"Santa Ana winds ramped back up on Sunday, and bouts of moderately strong wind gusts are anticipated through at least Tuesday," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Alyson Hoegg.

gusty winds graphic

"Winds can gust 50-60 mph in wind-prone passes and canyons and 60-70 mph in the mountains," she said. In Southern California, "the strongest winds are anticipated through Tuesday morning."

While not as strong as early this week, there can be another round of locally gusty Santa Ana winds Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

"If these conditions and the resulting damage persist, this could well turn out to be one of the US’ costliest weather and climate disasters, far exceeding the damage caused by any major hurricane," Dr. Joel Myers, Founder and President of AccuWeather, warned.

“Such a loss would certainly cause a significant hit to California’s economy with repercussions to its annual budget resulting in increased state taxes. Money needed to pay rising interest costs on California bonds will cause the state’s credit to deteriorate from these economic setbacks, which will further impact taxes collected and the total economic losses," he added.

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Farther north, firefighters will welcome calmer conditions around the Camp Fire for the rest of the week.

The combination of the strong winds, very little moisture in the air and extremely dry ground from months of drought will create a volatile environment for wildfires to ignite and rapidly expand.

Residents will once again need to be on high alert for rapidly spreading wildfires that may require a quick evacuation of homes and businesses.

Having an emergency bag on hand with important documents, medicine and other necessary items can save valuable time in the event that property must be evacuated in a matter of minutes. Heed all evacuation orders given by local authorities.

Ongoing blazes, such as the Camp and Woolsey fires, can exhibit extreme fire behavior in such windy conditions, making it vital for fire crews to remain vigilant for erratic movement and breached containment lines.

CA Large fires 11.10 AM

"The fires in Southern California could spread from east-to-west toward the coast, potentially impacting areas from Oxnard to Malibu," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rathbun.

Anyone with interests in the area can download the free AccuWeather app to receive the latest fire weather alerts for their area.

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The winds can also cause localized tree and power line damage.

In addition to potentially causing power outages, sparks from downed lines and transformers may also start fires.

Health issues from the smoke being produced by the blazes is affecting areas beyond those in the immediate vicinity of the fires.


A satellite image from Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, captured smoke streaming over parts of California. (NOAA)

“The same offshore wind flow at the lowest levels of the atmosphere that will keep dry and gusty weather in place in Southern California and the Sacramento Valley will also continue to push smoke out to sea,” according to AccuWeather Meteorologist and air quality blogger Faith Eherts.

As the smoke heads toward the ocean from the Camp Fire, it is covering the Sacramento Valley and part of the Northern California coast. Hazy and smoky conditions have been reported in Oakland continuously since Thursday afternoon.

A bit of smoke was noticeable in the Golden 1 Center arena in Sacramento before the basketball game between the city's Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, according to ESPN. LeBron James was among the Lakers' players who stated that the smoky conditions affected them during the game.

Poor air quality is also plaguing the San Joaquin Valley and Downtown Los Angeles.

People living in areas dealing with the smoky conditions, especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems, may need to limit time outdoors.

As the strongest winds will ease later this week, that could cause smoke to settle on the local level, as opposed to being pushed out to sea, should the fires continue to actively burn.

While fire crews will get relief from the windy conditions later in the week, no drought-busting or fire-quenching rainfall is on the horizon in the near future.

“No wet weather is expected across California through the week,” Rathbun said.

It may not be until next week before some moisture moves into California.

"There are signs of a pattern change during the week of Thanksgiving that may allow an episode or two of high humidity and perhaps some rain," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

"However, this does not mean that the risk of high wind events has ended for the year as a period of gusty winds may follow during the weekend right after Thanksgiving."

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