A fierce Santa Ana wind event in Southern California has led to wildfire warnings for over 17 million people and tens of thousands of power outages across the region, as officials pre-emptively shut off electricity to guard against the threat of wildfires.
The seasonal dry winds produced intense gusts on Thanksgiving Day, toppling trees and causing other damage while “public safety power shutoffs” in high-risk areas interrupted dinner plans.
One location in Los Angeles County had an 89-mph gust early Thursday. No major wildfires were reported, however.
The winds had died down somewhat Friday morning, but the threat will remain high through the day Friday, meteorologists said. "Widespread wind gusts of 35 to 60 mph are expected with damaging gusts up to 75 mph possible in the mountains and foothills," the National Weather Service said.
Dry conditions and gusty winds prompted the weather service to issue a red flag warning for several Southern California counties through 6 p.m. local time Friday. Red flags signal dangerous weather conditions where wildfires can spark and spread unpredictably. Fire departments bring on additional staff while the warnings are in play.
At least 17 million people live where red flag warnings remained in effect Friday, the Weather Service said.
More than 75,000 Edison customers in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties had power turned off under the power shutoff program as of late Thursday. As of Friday morning, nearly 60,000 were still powerless, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking website.
"These are very strong winds," said Gabriela Ornelas, a spokesperson for Southern California Edison.
Such winds can blow debris into power lines and spark fires, which is why the public safety power shutoffs were implemented.
"I'd rather have excess wind and less power than (getting) burned out of my house," Carl Pride, a Fontana resident, told CNN affiliate KABC while trying to grab his hat as the strong wind blew it away. "A minor inconvenience is nothing compared to losing my house."
Better weather was predicted for the weekend.
“There will be a few puffs of wind each morning Saturday and Sunday but nothing near advisory levels,” the weather service said.
Contributing: Jeremy Childs, The Ventura County Star; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Santa Ana winds, wildfires: 17M under red flag warnings in California