280,000 Californians could lose power as dangerous Santa Ana winds raise fire risk

A Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) could affect at least 280,000 customers -- mostly in Los Angeles and Ventura counties but extending to customers in Fresno, Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, and Tulare counties -- the utility company Southern California Edison (SCE) warned Monday.

According to SCE, "When there is a high risk for a wildfire, we may temporarily shut off power to your neighborhood to prevent our electric system from becoming the source of ignition."

Dry, hot and windy conditions combined with problems with power lines have contributed to massive fire outbreaks in the recent past, including the deadly 2018 Camp fire.

Tuesday's forecast conditions prompted the Storm Prediction Center to issue a Critical Risk zone for nearly 6 million people in Southern California.

"With nearly 80% of the Western US experiencing drought conditions, the area is akin to a tinderbox," CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said.

The Southern California region could see winds exceeding 50 miles per hour Tuesday, while further north could get gusts reaching up to 100 mph, the National Weather Service said.

Fires would flourish

The winds could be the strongest wind event of the season, forecasters say -- which could make a blaze even more dangerous.

"The combination of dry fuels and tropical storm force winds could lead to downed trees and power lines, thus any ignition of new fires would flourish and rapidly expand under these conditions," Javaheri said.

Many locations across Southern California, including Los Angeles, have not seen measurable rain since the end of December, meaning the vegetation across the region has had over two weeks to dry out.

Southern California has also experienced record heat over the last several days, in addition to the growing drought across the region.

And the wind expected to reach the region is the kind only seen every three years, the National Weather Service of San Diego said.

"So it is likely to cause some mayhem with palm fronds and the like. Secure loose outdoor objects," the NWS said.

Nearly 30 million Californians, or about 3 of every 4 people in the state, could see high winds through Tuesday, Javaheri said.

A chance for wet weather

There could be a sliver of good news later in the week because as the windstorm moves out through Southern California on Wednesday, it could leave a parting gift of moisture, Javaheri said.

A low-pressure system developing off the coast could bring cooler temperatures and higher humidity values. And increased moisture could mean weather to quench the parched Southwest region.

In Arizona, Phoenix had a 242-day streak without precipitation and Yuma a 110-day one until both cities saw rainy days on December 10.

Lowering the widespread drought across the region could mean relief from possible fire conditions.

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