High winds expected to increase fire danger across Nevada County, Northern California | TheUnion.com

High winds expected to increase fire danger across Nevada County, Northern California

High winds and dry conditions are expected for the weekend and could bring about a "firenado," or fire-whirl, like the one shown here in a meadow near Bitney Springs Road during October's Lobo Fire.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning that could affect the southernmost portion of Nevada County, and that has prompted a ban on outdoor burning.

Gusty wind and dry conditions for portions of Northern California will create critical fire weather conditions today. In conjunction with the warning, Cal Fire issued a suspension of burn permits on Friday.

All outdoor burning is prohibited in Placer, Nevada, Yuba and Sutter counties.

A dry weather system moving in from the north late Friday was expected to produce a combination of gusty winds and low humidity values. Due to these factors and the recent long stretch of warm and dry conditions, an elevated fire weather risk will exist, particularly for higher elevation locations, the release said. The red flag warning was predicted to be in effect through 10 a.m. Sunday.

Fires could start quickly, spread rapidly and burn intensely, Cal Fire warned.

Today is predicted to be sunny, with a high near 50 in Grass Valley, according to the weather service. Northeast winds were predicted at 10 to 14 mph becoming north northwest in the afternoon; winds could gust as high as 23 mph. Sunday will be more of the same, with a high near 56 and gusts as high as 20 mph.

PG&E issued its own warning due to the high wind predictions, encouraging residents to prepare for outages that could occur. A press release offered windstorm safety tips regarding low-hanging and downed power lines.

During a power outage, use battery-operated flashlights, and not candles, due to the risk of fire, the release stated. Generators should be properly installed by a licensed electrician in a well-ventilated area. If you experience an outage, unplug or turn off all electrical appliances to avoid overloading circuits and to prevent fire hazards when power is restored.

Those warnings came after rules were toughened for utility companies, including PG&E, to keep power lines clear of brush and tree branches that can easily spark into flames.

Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker said the regulations adopted unanimously Thursday by the board are “a major rewrite” of the state’s fire-prevention rules for utilities.

Fire officials are investigating the causes of wildfires currently burning in Southern California; they also are looking at any role that sparks from wind-whipped power lines played in October’s wildfires in Northern California, which killed 44 people and caused more than $9 billion in property damage.

The new state rules for utilities, power lines and vegetation concentrate on areas deemed to be a higher fire risk. The changes increase the minimum space among power lines and between power lines and vegetation, and speed up timetables for patrols and repairs in areas of higher fire risks.

“PG&E supports this as a good, next step, and we know there is more to do,” the company said in a statement.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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