Expected warm conditions, low humidity and gusty winds have prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for increased fire danger on Friday for the mountains and some inland portions of Santa Barbara County.
The warning, issued Thursday afternoon, extends from 4 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday.
"We're looking at relative humidity going into the single digits," said John Dumas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
That, coupled with wind gusts of about 40 mph, is "definitely enough to trigger [the warning]," he said.
Southeast winds of 15 to 30 mph, with higher gusts, are expected through Friday.
The strongest winds are predicted for Friday morning, and relative humidity is expected to be in the 8 to 15 percent range, with vegetation throughout the region especially dry due to the lack of rain.
Dumas said that the humidity along the coastline has been higher — a good sign for the fire wary — and that "we've been seeing a marine layer along the west and south coasts."
Dumas said the drought conditions have helped created fire conditions across the state, and that the NWS has also issued red flag warnings in San Diego and Monterey.
Firefighters in Santa Barbara County also reported critically dry fuel levels of brush on the ground after testing it for water content Thursday.
Because of the warning, people should report any sign of smoke immediately to a local fire department by calling 9-1-1, and use extreme caution when operating spark- or flame-producing machinery in grass or brush areas, according to Capt. David Sadecki of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
People should also have an evacuation plan in place and two exit routes from their neighborhood, Sadecki said, and if asked to evacuate by fire or law enforcement, do so immediately.
Any suspicious person or vehicle should be reported to law enforcement, he said.
On Thursday afternoon, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District issued an air quality watch for the county through the weekend.
Because of the dry conditions and wind, higher levels of particulates have been recorded locally, particularly in the Lompoc area, officials said.
Schools and after-school programs are urged to keep students indoors and limit outdoor activities when dust and particle levels are high.
People with heart or lung disease or asthma should use caution with high dust levels in the air, along with older people and children, and should contact their health-care provider if they experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, the department said.