Red Flag Warning

Fire Watches and Warnings: How to Do Your Part in Prevention and React

Fire weather watches and red flag warnings put firefighters on alert and should be heeded by the public, too.

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California's fire risk stretches beyond a contained season to nearly a year-round basis, with activity often persisting into December and beginning as early as January.

And Cal Fire records now reveal an increase in the number of fires and acreage burned in 2022 compared to the same time last year, with the state already at 836 fires as of March 25 compared to 786 by this time in 2021.

With fire activity rising, here's what you need to know about fire warning signs and what they mean for California.

The Highest Alert: Red Flag Warnings

When critical weather conditions conducive to a potentially rapid increase in fire activity are detected, the National Weather Service issues a red flag warning to the necessary fire departments.

These warnings pertains to weather which may effect acute fire activity within 24 hours.

This is the most serious alert.

Criteria for the warning include:

  • The area has experienced dry conditions for one or two weeks, sometimes less.
  • The area's fire danger level, as defined by the National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS), falls in the high, very high or extreme category.
  • The geographic area experiences sustained wind average of 15 mph;
  • Relative humidity less than or equal to 25%;
  • And temperatures greater than 75 degrees.

Cal Fire also specifies dry fuels, denoting the amount of water held in small vegetation, and potential dry lightning strikes are also considered as criteria for this warning in California.


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When a warning is issued, Cal Fire urges all residents and visitors to be extremely cautious.

The Second Highest Alert: Fire Weather Watches

A fire weather watch is the second highest alert and often precedes a red flag warning.

These are issued when critical weather conditions, like those listed above, may take effect in 12 to 72 hours.

While the watch is one step below a warning, the danger of fires is still heightened and Cal Fire still urges everyone in the area to be hypervigilant.

Cal Fire's Response

When either a warning or watch is issued, Cal Fire places additional firefighters on duty and keeps more engines and equipment on and ready 24 hours a day in case of emergency.

What You Can Do to Prevent Wildfires

The following are tips from the National Weather Service to prevent fires:

  • Never leave a fire unattended at a campsite.
  • Make sure that all outdoor fires are fully extinguished with water.
  • Do not dump live charcoal on the ground. Make sure it is completely cooled after soaking with water.
  • Never discard of cigarettes or matches out of a moving vehicle, into brush or on the ground. Discard them in the garbage.
  • In critical weather conditions, avoid using machinery that can create a spark, like lawn mowers.
  • Use spark arresters in wildland areas for all gasoline powered equipment.
  • Be sure to have at least 100 feet of defensible space around structures.
  • Clear any dead vegetation and clean your gutters, removing all flammable leaves and needles.
  • Branches 6 feet from the ground should be trimmed.
  • When driving, do not pull over into dry grass.
  • Ensure your tire pressure is normal and that you won't drive on wheel rims.
  • Be careful of wearing your brake pads too thin.
  • If burning is permitted in your area, cover all barrels with a weighted metal top.
  • Report any suspicious activity that may lead to arson.

Stay Aware of Watches and Warnings

You can follow this link to the National Weather Service's page which displays up-to-date information on current watches and warnings in California.

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