By Mike Hagerty and Sarah Bohannon
Parts of the Sacramento Valley will see their earliest spring red flag warning for high fire danger this weekend.
The National Weather Service says the warning is due to expected strong and gusty winds, very low humidity and dry fuels. This weekend’s weather conditions will mean easier fire starts and the potential for rapid spread of grass fires in affected valley areas. The warning runs from 5 a.m. Saturday through 5 p.m. Sunday.
🚩 Our earliest springtime Red Flag Warning has been issued for portions of the Sacramento Valley for tomorrow morning-Sunday evening due to strong and gusty north winds, very low humidity, and a mosaic of dry fuels. Please remember to practice fire safety! #CAwx #NorCal pic.twitter.com/pXwg50JqNb— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) April 8, 2022
"We've not had one out in April ever before," said Craig Shoemaker, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. "We had one as early as May a few years ago and we've had them also out in January during some of our really bad drought periods. But as far as April goes? It's pretty, pretty unusual."
The warning covers much of the area along Interstate 5 from Redding to Vacaville. Shoemaker said the Coast Range actually shielded that area along I-5 from last week's rains. So it's considerably drier than Sacramento and the Sierra foothills, which saw some precipitation and aren't included in the warning.
Shoemaker said the incredibly dry stretch to start the year — combined with the current heatwave and strong winds — led to the early fire danger.
"We've stretched into a really hot week … and we've had some wind this week," Shoemaker said. "Not really strong winds, but enough wind in combination with the warmer temperatures to really dry it out from the little bit of rain that we had that kind of kept the fire conditions at bay last week and week before."
There is a separate wind advisory for the Sacramento Valley, including the city of Sacramento, which Shoemaker said could bring gusts as high as 50 mph and sustained winds around 30 mph.
This weekend's high temperatures and fire danger will be immediately followed by a major cooldown, and even a slight chance of precipitation heading into next week
"A lot of the area will be looking for temperatures falling back into maybe the low 60s for highs and maybe even some areas struggling to get out of the upper 50s, potentially on Tuesday," Shoemaker said.
How to prepare for wildfires
The National Weather Service advises residents to avoid anything that could create sparks during the warning and also have an emergency plan in place. Officials also recommend making sure you’re signed up for your county’s emergency alerts. Here is a list of resources to sign up for wildfire alerts in your county and other steps you can take to prepare.
Last fire season, Michelle Mead, meteorologist in-charge at the National Weather Service in Sacramento, told NSPR she has another simple but important recommendation she gives whenever a red flag warning extends overnight.
“Sleep with your cell phone next to your bed,” she said.
Mead said to do this even if you’re not near a fire that’s already burning.
“Because if a fire were to break out, that’s when the emergency manager or the sheriff would say ‘hey, we need to get an evacuation alert out’ and that’s when the Wireless Emergency Alert would be utilized with a fire warning and/or evacuation warning,” she said.
Wireless Emergency Alerts or WEAs are part of the national public safety system. They look like text messages, but unlike many other types of alerts, Mead says they bypass all of your sleep modes.
While you could very well receive a WEA alert during an emergency, many counties also use other alerting systems, so you should make sure you’re signed for the emergency alert notification system your city or county uses.
Additionally, sign up with your mobile and your landline if you have both.
Unlike WEAs, most of those systems don’t bypass silence settings, so when you put your phone next to your bed tonight and Saturday night — make sure it’s not on silent or sleep mode and that it’s charged.
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