Santa Ana Winds Usher in L.A. Fire Season

It may feel cooler and more wintery outside (OK, still in the upper 60s and 70s; sorry Denver), but don't be fooled: What has the potential to be SoCal's worst fire season ever is only just now settling in.

We had a few scares back in the beginning of September -- including that pesky blaze all up in our Labor Day Weekend plans for Vegas -- but Jaime Moore of the Los Angeles Fire Department says conditions have worsened since then. "The beginning of the fire season started in October," he says. "Bue to weather conditions we've been experiencing, it's kind of been delayed."

Enter the fabled Santa Ana winds today...

... and you've got two years worth of ample vegetation, big and lush because of all the rain we've been getting, dried to a crisp and ready to burn.

To kick off the season, the National Weather Service is issuing a red-flag warning for all the mountains surrounding Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, including the Angeles and Los Padres national forests, from this afternoon to tomorrow afternoon. All the usual valleys and canyons are also in danger.

Moore says the combination of relatively high temperatures, low humidity and harsh winds from the east -- on top of all this thick vegetation -- is the perfect formula for a spark to explode.

He lists the following as potential problem areas: Mount Washington, the Hollywood Hills and parts of Bel Air and Elysian Park.

Basically, wherever residents have chosen to nestle their homes amongst the tickly grasses (so very L.A.). Moore calls it "wildland urban interface" -- "areas that were once heavly covered in vegetation," intruded upon by moneybags who "wanted to be in touch with nature." And, he admits, "it is beautiful." But symbiotic country-city life is no match for the Santa Anas.

Inspector Johnson at the L.A. County Fire Department, however, insists no area is more high-risk than another. "It can be low vegetation -- if it gets going it can get going," he says. So it goes without saying: If you see smoke today, or anytime in the next few months, do like mid-90s Beyonce and ring the hell out of whatever alarm you've got. (911 usually works pretty well.)

Some more insight into 2011's recipe for disaster from Jayme Laber, a National Weather Service hydrologist, over at the Los Angeles Times:

The same offshore winds that create potential fire conditions will decrease the marine layer, Laber said. Those winds will also leave conditions windy in the mountains and breezy in the valleys, he said.

Moore says the SoCal fire season is expected to last into early February. Time to break out those Canadian super scoopers, y'all.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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