Firefighters battling a half-dozen fires that have raged in Southern California this week braced Saturday for a weekend of high winds that could trigger more rapid or dramatic increases in wildfire activity in the dry, tinder-box conditions.
The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning for parts of San Diego county, with the strongest winds expected in the mountains and inland valleys late Saturday through Sunday morning.
Vegetation is bone dry, there’s been hardly any rainfall and winds were expected to gusts up to 40 mph Saturday and up to 50 mph Sunday in the hard-hit Los Angeles and Ventura areas, the National Weather Service said.
Strong winds have left many fire crews mostly powerless in the face of wildfires that have killed one person, scorched more than 270 square miles since Monday, destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, killed scores of horses in San Diego county and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee.
“The crews were trying to stay out ahead of this as quickly as they could,” said Capt. Kendal Bortisser of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. “As we know, when a tornado hits the Midwest, there’s no stopping it. When a hurricane hits the East Coast, there’s no stopping it. When Santa Ana winds come in, there’s no stopping them.”
The initial wildfires, focused largely on Los Angeles and Ventura counties, continued to sweep the area, with the Thomas Fire, which has scorched 143,000 acres in Ventura County, only 10% contained. In Los Angeles County, the Rye Fire, which has burned 6,000 acres, is 50% contained and the Creek Fire, which has burned 15,619 acres, is 70% contained.
Farther south, in San Diego County, the newest wildfire — dubbed Lilac — erupted Thursday. It has burned 4,100 acres and is 15% contained.
As winds as high as 88 mph whipped through the county, the flames tore through Fallbrook, the self-proclaimed “Avocado Capital of the World" and hit the nearby town of Bonsall, where about 30 to 40 elite thoroughbreds perished when the fires swept into barns at the San Luis Rey Training Facility.
Pandemonium broke out as hundreds of horses were set free to prevent them from burning in their stables. They nearly stampeded trainer Kim Marrs as she rescued a horse named Spirit World.
Marrs said it was devastating to see the remains of once regal animals.
“It’s pretty apocalyptic,” she said. “When you touch them it’s just ash.”