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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 2:52 pm | Overcast 61º


Red Flag Warning Issued as Firefighters Brace for High Winds in Santa Barbara County

Sundowner winds with gusts to 60 mph are expected along South Coast and in foothill, mountain areas

A forecast calling for strong “sundowner” winds — coupled with very low humidity — has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a fire weather watch for areas of Santa Barbara County.

Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts to 60 mph, are possible along the South Coast, as well as in some mountain areas, forecasters said.

Humidity levels are likely to drop to between 11 percent and 20 percent.

The fire weather watch — which signals the potential for rapid and extreme fire growth and behavior — will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday and continue until 8 a.m. Sunday.

Early Saturday afternoon, forecasters added a red flag warning, which indicates that critical fire weather either is occurring or is expected soon.

The red flag warning will be in effect from midnight until 10 a.m. Sunday, but the overall fire danger is predicted to last into Tuesday.

By Sunday night and Monday, widespread humidity below 15 percent is expected, with the strongest winds, lowest humidity and warmest temperatures expected on Tuesday, county Fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

He said the department has responded to the increased fire risk by boosting its staffing — including adding firefighter, two fire engines and a water tender.

The Montecito Fire Protection District also has increased staffing, adding a brush engine, a patrol truck and a dispatcher, and the Santa Barbara Fire Department was adding personnel Saturday night.

During a red flag warning, Sadecki said, citizens are urged to take appropriate precautions, including the following:

» Report any sign of smoke immediately to your local fire department by calling 9-1-1 (if you call 9-1-1 from your cell phone, you must know your location).

» Use extreme caution when operating spark- or flame-producing machinery in hazardous grass or brush areas.

» Have an evacuation plan in place and identify two exit routes from your neighborhood. If you are asked to evacuate by fire or law enforcement officials, do so immediately.

» Report any suspicious persons or vehicles to law enforcement.

The blustery conditions are due to a weather system passing through the area, said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Rain from the system will remain to the north, only coming as far down as San Luis Obispo County, he said.

“On the backside there will be some gusty north winds at altitude, which will push down into the Santa Ynez range,” Sweet said. “As the air goes through the passes and canyons, it accelerates.”

The weather service said the strongest winds are expected below canyons and passes, especially in the foothills above Montecito. Motorists are advised to use caution on Highway 101 along the Gaviota coast, on Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass, and on Highway 101 and Highway 192/East Valley Road through Montecito.

As a result of the red flag warning, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, 1212 Mission Canyon Road, will open an hour later than usual Sunday. The garden will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, but the nonprofit facility’s Holiday Marketplace will not be affected.

Winds are expected to diminish Sunday, and sunny skies are forecast through the coming week, including the Thanksgiving holiday.

Daytime highs should be in the 70s, with overnight lows in the mid-50s.

» Click here for the complete National Weather Service forecast.

» Click here for the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Services. Click here to sign up for the OES’ messaging service. Connect with the OES on Facebook.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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