Public Safety

Prepare Now for Red Flag Conditions

When the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a Red Flag warning, it means residents need to be alert to dangerous fire conditions. But what does it mean for the County and fire agencies like CAL FIRE?

County Office of Emergency Services Director Holly Crawford says a red flag warning triggers a heightened state of awareness and readiness for the first responder community and County staff. Residents are encouraged to do the same.

“Fire season is year-round in San Diego County,” Crawford says. “It’s important to maintain a minimum of 100 feet of defensible space around your home; review and update your family disaster plan; and restock your home emergency kits, if needed, to maintain your family’s preparedness in the event of a fire.”

Although rain is predicted early this week, drier and gusty wind conditions will return by Wednesday. The storm is expected to leave little rain in our region and will not be significant enough to lessen dry conditions.

Both the County and CAL FIRE monitor the NWS forecasts and scan for weather conditions that could pose a risk for the public such as dry, offshore wind events, also known as Santa Ana winds, or heavy rainfall.

So, do you know the difference between a Fire Weather Watch and a Red Flag Warning?

The weather service posts a Fire Weather Watch first to indicate a potential for hot, dry and windy conditions. If a fire were sparked under these weather conditions, it would be difficult to control, says Alex Tardy, NWS warning coordination meteorologist.

Fire agencies and government agencies pay close attention to a Fire Weather Watch. For some, the alert means they may increase fire equipment and crews.

“We monitor weather because it dictates our staffing, whether it’s a wind or rain storm,” says CAL FIRE Capt. Mike Mohler. “Weather is very important to our operations.”

The Office of Emergency Services is also monitoring the conditions on a 24-hour basis. At the Fire Weather Watch level, the office might send out messages via social media to try to encourage people to prepare by clearing away brush before weather conditions reach the warning stage.

When the hot, dry and windy conditions are imminent or have begun, the weather service issues a Red Flag Warning. At that point, it’s usually too dangerous to begin clearing defensible space with a mower because that might accidentally spark a fire.

The Red Flag warning would prompt CAL FIRE to increase staffing in the summer months or during peak fire season in the fall. During the winter and spring, they would continue to monitor, but can “increase engines, crews and aircraft at a moment’s notice,” says Mohler.

In December, NWS meteorologists predicted a dry winter and spring for the region. Tardy said the forecast has not changed, despite some rain in November and December.

Overall, the state is unusually dry and other parts of the state missed out on the rain San Diego received in those months.

“With all the offshore (wind) events we’ve been having, if we don’t get any substantial rain in the next few months, that could be cause for concern,” says Mohler. “It could be an active fire season.“

To learn more about fire preparedness, visit the ReadySanDiego.org Family section or CALFIRE’s ReadyForWildfire.org

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact