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National Forest Is Bracing for Santa Anas

Winds will combine with a beetle infestation, six-year drought for a dangerous fire season.

September 16, 2004|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Forecasters expect mild Santa Ana winds to arrive in the San Bernardino Mountains next week at the height of a fire season that emergency officials fear could be as dangerous as last year's.

"Whether the winds are strong or not, they're always a concern this time of year," said Rocky Opliger, deputy chief for fire and aviation management for the San Bernardino National Forest. "Fire has three elements: heat, fuel and oxygen. When you add wind to it, you've basically fueled that fire."

Last year in Southern California, forest fires fed by Santa Ana winds killed 26 people, burned more than 738,000 acres and destroyed more than 3,600 homes and other buildings.

This year, the hot, dry winds will combine with a bark beetle infestation and a six-year drought to create hazardous forest conditions.

"We have a fire season as severe as last year, if not more," said Tracey Martinez, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department. "Folks need to be prepared."

There is a possibility of 20- to 25-mph winds as early as Tuesday, said meteorologist Stan Wasowski, of the National Weather Service.

"We might have a week of moderate Santa Anas in the passes and canyons in San Bernardino and below the Cajon Pass," Wasowski said. "We expect them this time of year."

San Bernardino National Forest officials have about 100 additional firefighters, including smokejumpers and hotshot crews from Montana, Redding and Idaho, Opliger said.

A new response plan allows all agencies to send additional resources to fires, creating access to an additional 17 engines, he said.

"We want to pick up fires and keep them small," Opliger said. "We don't want them escaping initial attack."

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