Swirling winds today will complicate Lilac firefight

The firefighters who are battling the Lilac wildfire in the Bonsall area will have to cope with wildly swirling winds on Friday due to a change in the weather.

The wildfire was spread on Thursday afternoon by Santa Ana winds out of the east. On Friday, the Santa Anas will collide with newly forming winds out of the west.

“The collision of these winds could make things very swirly for the firefighters,” said Mark Moede, a weather service forecaster.“The west wind will reach the coast at about 10 a.m. Friday, and they should begin blowing across the Lilac-Bonsall areas about 1 p.m. The onshores will only be blowing 8-16 mph, but that’s still enough to spread a wildfire.”

The National Weather Service has extended the red flag warning for San Diego County to Sunday, meaning the region will experience Santa Ana winds for a full week, possibly longer.

Forecasters issued the update on Thursday afternoon, just as the Lilac wildfire was spreading in the Bonsall area. The blaze, fueled by 40 mph winds, had burned more than 3,600 acres of land and injured two people by Thursday evening. Authorities said the fire also threatened 5,000 structures.

The winds will fade on Friday and remain light early Saturday. But they’re expected to regain strength on Saturday night and early Sunday. The Santa Anas have been blowing, on-and-off, since Monday.

“This is a once-in-a-decade event,” said Alex Tardy, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Rancho Bernardo.

“Since Monday, we’ve had very low humidity and high winds, and Santa Anas usually don’t last that long. We haven’t had something like this since 2015, and we haven’t had Santa Anas that last a week or more since the big wildfires of 2007.”

He was referring to the series of large wildfires that hit the county in October 2007. For example, the Harris fire consumed more than 90,000 acres and killed eight people. The Witch fired burned almost 250,000 across and killed two.

The newly-extended red flag warning means, in this case, wildfires could break out anywhere from the coast to the mountains.

Thursday has turned out to be the windiest so far, with gusting to nearly 90 mph at Sill Hill near Descanso in East County. The winds also whipped to more than 50 mph along eastern Interstate 8, and over-turned a large trailer near the Japatul exit.

The high winds caused a large branch to fall from a tree at Holiday Park in Carlsbad, killing a 70-year-old man Thursday morning.

Carlsbad Fire Chief Mike Davis said the man had just stepped out of his car at about 10:30 a.m. near Pine Avenue and Eureka Place.

The man was pronounced dead about 15 minutes after paramedics arrived, and his name has not been released, Davis said.

“During high-wind events, whether it’s a winter storm with gale-force winter winds off the coast or Santa Anas like right now, it’s very important to observe our surroundings and be really careful,” Davis said.

“If you’re out driving anyway near or around a brush fire and it’s smoky, slow down, and we’ll all get through this safe,” he added.

In January 2016, musician Nicki Carano was killed when strong winds toppled a tree that fell on her car while she was driving in Pacific Beach.

Here is a sample of Thursday's fastest wind gusts: Sill Hill (near Descanso), 88 mph; Alpine mph, 70 mph; Valley Center, 69; Big Black Mountain, 68 mph; Palomar Mountain, 62 mph; Campo, 60; Julian, 56 mph; Otay Mountain, 50 mph; Ramona, 47 mph; Miramar MCAS, 47 mph; Mission Trails, 46 mph; Scripps Ranch, 45 mph; Mission Valley, 45 mph; Carlsbad, 41 mph; San Diego Country Estates, 40 mph; Valley Center, 38 mph; Montgomery, 37 mph; Poway, 36.

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gary.robbins@sduniontribune.com

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