OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The National Weather Service on Friday upgraded a declared Fire Weather Watch to a Red Flag Warning for the East Bay Hills and valleys, the North Bay Mountains and Santa Cruz Mountains starting Sunday morning.
Experts are predicting some of the strongest winds of the year so far on Sunday, making any fire during two days of the warning potentially catastrophic.
The warning, which will last from 11 a.m. Sunday to 11 a.m. Tuesday, was issued in anticipation of low humidity and winds between 25 mph and 35 mph, as well as gusts of up to 60 mph. In some mountainous parts of the Bay Area, wind gusts could reach as high as 70 mph, forecasters said.
The Fire Weather Watch has been upgraded to a #redFlagWarning beginning Sunday morning for elevated terrain then including lower valleys of the #bayArea Sunday evening. Winds are expected to be the strongest of the 2020 fire season with critically dry conditions.#CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/nfjkxSPHUT
— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) October 23, 2020
The warning of high winds and fire danger has become a familiar one to residents in the North Bay.
It was the relentless wind that drove fires up and down hillsides and across valley floors when the horrific Wine Country Wildfires broke out in one terrifying night three years ago.
“Yeah, there was a lot of wind damage that was occurring that night in 2017, before the Tubbs Fire even moved into Santa Rosa,” remembered Paul Lowenthal of Cal Fire.
Everyone was at the mercy of the weather those first few hours. Things could have been much worse had firefighters not gotten some help just before sunrise.
“We were fortunate in 2017 that those winds did die off that morning,” Lowenthal said. “Had they not, it probably would have been a much more devastating and destructive fire.”
Not only has that fire changed the landscape, it has changed the way people living in Wine Country respond to forecasts like the one issued Friday.
“I get ready for it,” said Laura Carr. “Because I am so grateful that we get these forecasts. We did not get them those first fires and people were devastated and had to run for their lives.”
“A number of differences and changes have been made since 2017,” Lowenthal explained. “We have learned a lot from that event. Nobody wants to go through an event as catastrophic as that, but from that a lot of lessons were learned and improvements have been made.”
It was trial by fire in 2017, a chaotic race to escape multiple wind-driven counties across the North Bay. But three years and several fires later, people living in the North Bay are seeing the benefits of the lessons learned.
“We saw them in the Kincaid Fire, the Walbridge, and LNU Fires,” Lowenthal said. “But really most notably was during the Glass Fire. During the Glass Fire, when you look at the threat to the highly populated areas like that, the tools that we were able to use — from a network of cameras that we used to monitor the situation, and our ability to alert more of our community members than we could have our past — that led to the saving of a lot of homes. A lot of the changes and improvements definitely went to do a play.”
Just as official emergency preparation has changed in the North Bay, so has just about everyone’s readiness for the kind of weather expected Sunday.
“I’m packed,” Carr said. “I have my camping gear in my husband’s truck. We have the pets, we have our crates ready. We just get ready. I choose to live in Sonoma County, so I pack.”
A High Wind Watch has also been declared for all Bay Area counties and Santa Cruz County from 4 p.m. Sunday through Monday at 10 a.m.
High winds may blow down trees and power lines, according to the weather service, with the potential for widespread power outages.
Due to the expected high winds, PG&E said Friday that it will shut off power across Northern California in areas impacted by the fire weather watch.
The latest PSPS that will start Sunday afternoon and last until Wednesday morning will affect residents in 38 counties across northern and central California including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma. San Francisco is the only Bay Area county that will not be impacted by the PSPS.
PG&E on Friday evening released updated estimates on how many customers would be effected by Sunday’s PSPS:
Alameda County: 39,401
Contra Costa County: 20,148
Marin County: 19,626
Napa County: 15,598
San Mateo County: 4,458
Santa Clara County: 4,770
Solano County: 1,606
Sonoma County: 38,119
A total of nearly 144,000 customers will be losing power between Sunday and Wednesday, according to PG&E’s latest estimates.
Residents in the area are advised to plan ahead by preparing an emergency kit, ensuring they have flashlights and extra batteries and storing water and non-perishable foods.
Earlier Friday, the East Bay Regional Park District announced the closure of several parks on Sunday and Monday due to expected very strong winds and high fire danger at the start of next week.
Officials said they plan to close 11 parks early next week ahead of what they called a “20-year wind event.” Along with the strong winds, which can cause falling trees and branches, low humidity and dry elevation raises the risk of wildfires.
Park closures include:
- Anthony Chabot Regional Park (including Anthony Chabot campground)
- Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve
- Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve
- Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area
- Lake Chabot Regional Park
- Leona Canyon Open Space Regional Preserve
- Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
- Roberts Regional Recreation Area
- Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
- Tilden Regional Park
- Wildcat Canyon Regional Park (including Alvarado Park)
Officials said anyone entering the parks will be subject to citation or arrest.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.