Dry, gusty winds expected over the weekend have triggered fire concerns at higher elevations in the North Bay mountains.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for Sonoma County, the rest of the North Bay and the East Bay hills from 10 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Sunday.
Adding to worries, the rainy season has started off slow with the precipitation level 58 percent of normal around Santa Rosa, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Anna Schneider.
The lack of rainfall, low humidity, dry winds and unseasonably high temperatures all lead to a “prolonged period of critical fire whether,” Schneider said.
Northerly winds blowing at regular speeds of 20 to 35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph are expected for higher elevations this weekend, Schneider said. Wind are expected to be moderate elsewhere.
Even though many on the North Coast felt chilly mornings in the mid-30s, afternoons have typically increased to around 70 degrees, Schneider said. The mean high temperature for Santa Rosa in December is in the mid-50s.
There’s a chance of rain mid-week, but “the models have been inconsistent, so if that doesn’t happened it won’t rain for a while,” she said.
Fire officials are asking people not to set camp fires or even engage in permitted brush burning this weekend.
“You should never start a fire when winds are above 10 miles per hour,” said Cal Fire and Napa County Fire Capt. Chase Beckman.
Santa Rosa fire has put summertime wildfire equipment back on all engines and trucks in preparation for the weekend winds, said Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal. The fire department has also suspended all non-emergency activities that would take equipment out of service for the weekend.
For Lowenthal, the lack of rain this autumn has both helped and hurt conditions in Sonoma County. The absence of heavy rains allayed concerns of erosion and landslides while also giving hillsides a chance to stabilize. At the same time, trees and brush haven’t received rain needed to reduce the risk of fire.
While areas burned in October fires are less susceptible to reigniting should a fire escape or a utility pole blow over, there are still unaffected areas within the fire perimeter that could pose a risk, officials said.
Fire officials don’t expect a repeat of the high and dry winds that blew over the North Coast Oct. 8 sparking numerous fires, but residents should still have an emergency plan and sign up for SoCo Alerts and Nixle to receive emergency updates on mobile devices.
You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @nrahaim.