The North Complex fire has been burning for nearly a month, killing at least 12 people. Now, gusty winds are expected to complicate firefighting efforts.
Published: 2020-09-13 02:46 pm
Gusty winds could clear skies but complicate Northern California firefighting efforts

For days, smoke has suffused California’s skies, replacing a bright yellow sun with something akin to a hazy red orb.

Relief from the stagnant smoke could begin to shift Sunday, as gusty winds are expected in parts of the state — a respite perhaps from poor air quality but an unwelcome forecast for firefighters still battling the massive North Complex fire in Northern California, forecasters said.

The blaze, which began with a bolt of lightning in mid-August, has burned ferociously since then, killing at least 12 people, causing thousands to evacuate during a deadly pandemic, and chewing through more than 258,000 acres in Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties.

As of Sunday morning, it was 26% contained.

Over the next few days, firefighters will have to deal with breezier southerly winds, said Cory Mueller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

“That’s the big concern,” Mueller said. “We are expecting increased fire-weather concerns given the gusts.”

Usually, onshore winds bring higher humidity — welcomed by firefighters — but the forecast is expected to stay dry until at least Wednesday, Mueller said. There’s a chance of showers in the region Thursday and Friday, he added.

The North Complex is just one of several massive wildfires that have devastated the region in recent weeks. The death toll from the fires will likely continue to climb as authorities eventually get into areas now blocked by heat and flames.

Meanwhile, Southern California — where residents are also struggling with poor air quality — is forecast to get some onshore winds starting Sunday, said Kathy Hoxsie, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. The Bobcat fire, burning in the Angeles National Forest north of Azusa, has torn through nearly 30,000 acres and has sent thick, unhealthful smoke into the Los Angeles Basin.

But the winds, expected to be from 10 ot 15 mph, perhaps with gusts of up to 25, won’t be as strong as those in Northern California, where officials have predicted gusts of up to at least 30 mph over the next few days.

The light winds in Southern California could mean some areas will see slightly thinned-out smoke, and others will get thicker smoke, Hoxsie said, adding that no big change is expected until at least the middle of the week.

“We have that big high pressure over us and as long as that’s there it’s kind of a cap on the smoke,” she said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has forecast moderate to unhealthful air for a large swath of the region, including central Los Angeles and the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys. Conditions are expected to be somewhat better along the coast and in Orange County.

Poor air quality contributed to the weekend closure of eight parks in L.A. County: Eaton Canyon, Devil’s Punchbowl, Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park, Lario Staging Area, Marshall Canyon, Peck Road Water Conservation Park, San Dimas Canyon Natural Area and Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health warned residents to stay indoors as much as possible and limit physical exertion, indoors or out.

“If you can see smoke, soot or ash, or you can smell smoke, pay attention to your immediate environment and take precautions to safeguard your health,” said county Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis. “These precautions are particularly important for children, older adults, and people with heart or lung diseases.”

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