Calif. Uses Computer to Predict Santa Ana Winds

SAN DIEGO --

San Diegans know all too well about wildfires in October. In 2003 and in 2007, wildfires fueled by dry brush started in the East County and tore thorough the rest of San Diego County.

This year, San Diego has had unusual amounts of rain in late September and early October. While many might think that would lessen the wildfire danger, fire officials said that is not the case.

"We have a lot of dead fuels throughout the county," said Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler.

Part of the problem is that most of the recent rain fell near the coast. For example, from Oct. 4-6, Lindbergh Field got 0.76 inches of rain. Ramona got only 0.03 inches in the same period.

Mohler pointed out an area in El Cajon where the ground was still wet, but the brush was dry and ready to burn.

"It's really what we consider kindling for the fire," he said.

A strong Santa Ana wind could undo whatever moisture the rain provided, experts said.

"We can dry up fuels within 12 hours," Mohler said. "And have a wind-driven fire even if we had moisture prior to that day."

Cal Fire does have a new computer tool called the offshore flow severity index, which predicts Santa Ana winds six days in advance and rates them from 1 to 4. One is the weakest and 4 means winds of 35 mph or more, and humidity in single digits.

If Cal Fire sees a category 4 coming, they can increase staffing.

Cal Fire is currently at full staffing levels, including two air tankers, two helicopters and an air attack plane.

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