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Fire risks prompt power shutoffs across the state

Gusting Santa Ana winds combined with low humidity and high heat today to dramatically raise the risk of wildfires, with the bulk of the Southland under a red flag warning of critical fire dangers.

The red flag warning took effect early Thursday morning and will remain in effect until 10 p.m. Friday.

“An extreme Santa Ana wind event will bring widespread critical conditions to most of Los Angeles and Ventura counties,” according to the National Weather Service. “Peak wind gusts between 50 and 70 mph are expected. Minimum humidities will lower well below 10%, with maximum temperatures between 87 and 97. This is a dangerous situation with an environment ripe for large and fast fire growth, and a red flag warning is in effect as a result.”

The red flag warning affects the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area, Los Angeles County Mountains, Angeles National Forests, the coastal area stretching to downtown Los Angeles, and the Santa Clarita, San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys

The strong Santa Ana winds prompted Southern California Edison to warn roughly 300,000 customers across its service area that their power could be temporarily shut off. The precautionary shut downs de-energize power lines in danger of being damaged by high winds and potentially starting brush fires.

As of 10 a.m., SCE had cut power to nearly 20,000 customers across its service area, including nearly 1,700 in Los Angeles County communities of Leona Valley, Hughes Lake, Green Valley, Agua Dulce, White Heather and Boiling Point. Roughly 68,000 SCE customers in Los Angeles County are in areas being eyed for potential power shutdowns, including Azusa, Covina, Glendale, Glendora, La Canada Flintridge, Lancaster, Palmdale, San Dimas, San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Malibu.

More than 23,000 customers in Orange County could lose power, including areas such as Irvine, Orange, Villa Park, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana, Tustin and Rancho Santa Margarita.

At a morning news conference in downtown Los Angeles, Gov. Gavin Newsom assured residents that the state has been taking steps to be better prepared for wildfires, noting that crews were pre-deployed to high-fire-risk areas statewide.

“You may recall a number of months ago, we initiated historic investments in vegetation management, forest management and investments in fire suppression, as well as prevention strategies, throughout the state of California,” he said.

But Newsom again lashed out power companies — primarily Pacific Gas & Electric — for lacking the foresight to improve their transmission systems and protect them against high winds, either by undergrounding lines or otherwise strengthening them and eliminating the need for power shutoffs.

“This is simply unacceptable — 21st Century in a state like ours … to see this kind of disruption potentially putting the lives of millions of Californians at risk because they can’t access critical care or even water in some cases is unacceptable,” Newsom said.

Due to the critical fire conditions, the city of Los Angeles enacted red flag parking restrictions at 8 a.m. in Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. The restrictions are put in place in an effort to keep streets clear of parked vehicles to ensure fire apparatus can reach brush fires, while also clearing a path for residents who may need to quickly evacuate a fire area.

Meanwhile, firefighters were continuing to battle a 45-acre brush fire in Pacific Palisades that was 55% contained Thursday morning. The 8,799-acre Saddleridge Fire in the northern San Fernando Valley was 97% contained. Fire officials said they were rushing to fully douse and surround those blazes ahead of the Santa Ana winds that could re-ignite flames or carry smoldering embers and begin new fires.

The heat wave is expected to continue through Friday. The high in downtown Los Angeles was expected to be 95 degrees Thursday and 91 on Friday. Other expected highs Thursday were 95 in Van Nuys and Pasadena, 93 in West Hollywood, and 96 in Anaheim.

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