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Santa Ana winds expected to blow into San Diego; fire danger high

With hot, dry, Santa Ana winds expected to blow into San Diego through Saturday, fire officials are warning locals to be on high alert for the next few days.

A high-wind warning was to take effect Thursday night, followed by a red flag warning, which means fire danger is high. As a result of the dangerous weather conditions, more local firefighters will be on duty through Saturday.

“We’re getting our first traditional offshore Santa Ana wind event,” California Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said. “(That means) humidity in the single digits, a temperature increase and then an offshore flow.

"The warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds are an East County formula for disaster. One only needs to look at the calendar to know we’re in the heart of fire season."

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Thursday marks the nine-year anniversary of the destructive 2003 Cedar Fire, which ripped through neighborhoods from Scripps Ranch to Harbison Canyon.

Officials say some of the strongest winds are expected along Interstate 8 and will peak Saturday morning, causing potential problems.

Experienced local residents are not taking the red flag fire warning lightly.

“We’ve just come from Palm Desert and the wind is really blowing there and it’s hot. It’s coming,” Alpine resident Charles Caldwell told NBC 7.

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At sunset Thursday, the wind could be heard rustling through the trees in Santa Ysabel. That gusting wind is supposed to grow stronger and stronger throughout the night.

“We know all about the danger,” said Dean Thornbury, a Ramona resident.

Thornbury has lived in the Ramona area for 30 years and said he doesn’t like the winds associated with San Diego fire season.

Back in 2007, Santa Ana winds fanned the flames that leveled his ranch home. He watched it burn to the ground, as he fought to rescue his horses.

“Some of them had their eyelids burned off. The trailer door knocked me down. The winds were like 90 miles per hour,” Thornbury recalled.

The fear of a wind-fueled fire happening again has Cal Fire officials ready to react fast.

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Officials said an additional air tanker, flown in from Northern California, is now waiting in the wings with two others at Ramona Airport, also ready to spring into use at the first sign of smoke.

Officials have also increased staffing levels around the county to accommodate more fire engines and ground crews -- just in case.

In addition, some residents in fire danger zones are getting an emergency voice message from San Diego Gas & Electric alerting locals to be ready for the worst.

The message warns, in part: “This is SDG&E with an important message. High wind associated with red flag warnings could cause outages or require SDG&E to turn off power for public safety.”

Officials said safety should always be the first priority and that means having plenty of defensible space around your home.

“There are a lot of people that don’t pay attention to that and they ought to because it’s amazing to everything burnt to the ground,” Thornbury said.

Officials also said residents should not barbecue through Saturday, just in case, and be extremely careful with cigarette butts.