Twelve straight days of red flag warnings in Los Angeles County came to an end Friday, but the risk of wildfire is not yet over and Red Flag warnings remain in effect for other parts of Southern California.
The warnings were first issued early last week because of gusty Santa Ana winds combined with very low humidity levels, then extended every day beginning Thursday before last. National Weather Service forecasters said that, even though no records are kept, they are certain that never before has there been so long a string of red flag warnings in Southern California.
"We will work out way away from fire weather warnings, but it's only going to be very brief," said NBC4 forecaster David Biggar.
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Red flag warnings in Los Angeles County were scheduled to expire at 10 a.m. Friday in the San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains, the Angeles National Forest, the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys, beach cities, metropolitan Los Angeles, downtow LA, and the Hollywood Hills. No red flag warning has been issued for LA County's Antelope and San Gabriel valleys, but several have been in force in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where the nearly 250,000-acre Thomas Fire has burned since Dec. 4.
Northeast winds of 15 to 30 miles per hour have been blowing in LA County areas, gusting at up to 55 mph amid humidity levels as low as 4-10 percent, but the winds diminished this morning and wind advisories were allowed to expire. But the winds are expected to pick up again Saturday night, according to the NWS, which forecast a slight improvement in humidity levels to between 10-15 percent Sunday.
From late Saturday through Sunday evening, a fire weather watch, which is a notch less severe than a red flag warning, will be in force in the areas now under red flag warning, except the L.A. coastal zone that stretches from beach cities to the Hollywood Hills.
The NWS forecast sunny skies in Los Angeles County today and highs of 70 degrees in Lancaster; 71 in Palmdale; 73 on Mount Wilson; 75 in Avalon; 79 at LAX; 80 in Downtown L.A., Long Beach and San Gabriel; 82 in Burbank and Pasadena; and 83 in Woodland Hills. Temperatures will dip substantially Saturday -- by up to 11 degrees on Mount Wilson.
Sunny skies were also forecast in Orange County, along with highs of 71 in Lagana Beach and San Clemente; 73 in Newport Beach; 80 in Mission Viejo; and 81 in Yorba Linda, Fullerton, Irvine and Anaheim, where Saturday's high is expected to be 11 degrees lower than today's.
High fire risk is expected to last into January, adding to fears that months of deadly and destructive wildfire danger will extend into early next year. CAL FIRE reported 6,877 in California from Jan. 1 to Dec. 10, including the devastating North Bay fires in October. Wildfires in 2017 have scorched more than 505,000 acres, more than double last year’s burned acreage count. During that same period in 2016, the state firefighting agency reported 4,754 fires that burned 244,303 acres.
The state is coming off one of its wettest winters in years in 2016-2017, which left hillsides covered in grass and other vegetation. That grass dried out in summer and turned into tinder, providing fuel for rapidly spreading fires often pushed by strong winds that can carry hot embers for miles and turn small spot fires into infernos.