New criteria for red flag warnings, which place more emphasis on high winds than low humidity, are being given positive reviews by fire officials who serve Ramona.
In the original standards set by the National Weather Service in 2003, a red flag warning could be issued if the relative humidity was expected to be 10 percent or lower for 10 hours or more.
But now the weather service is saying that a humidity of 15 percent or lower for at least six hours must be combined with sustained winds of at least 25 mph or frequent gusts of 35 mph to justify a red flag warning.
“We agree with this philosophy,” said CalFire Battalion Chief Nick Schuler. “Even though low humidity is a problem, what really fuels fires is extreme winds, especially Santa Ana winds.
“Under the old criteria, normal weather patterns in Southern California—for example, low humidity—would trigger a warning.”
The change is expected to result in about half as many red flag warnings, so officials hope that the public will pay more attention when one is issued. They speculate that the large number of red flag warnings has caused the public to tune out and ignore the alerts.
The weather service issued 39 warnings in 2009, which was a calm fire year, for the region that includes San Diego County, compared with 137 in 2008 and 96 in 2007.
“If there are going to be fewer red flag warnings, that’s a good thing,” said Ralph McIntosh, general manager of the Ramona Municipal Water District.
McIntosh noted that a red flag alert always sent the water district on a hunt for portable generators.
“Plus, we would staff vehicles and send vehicles home with key personnel in case something would happen so we would be prepared and out in front. Fewer warnings won’t disrupt our operation as much.
“In fact, if I never saw a red flag warning again in my life, I’d be a happy man.”
Schuler indicated that the change in criteria won’t have much impact on how CalFire conducts its business, since a red flag warning is only “one factor utilized to determine an increase in our staffing and response levels.”
“We also take the current weather, forecasted weather, fire activity and fuel conditions into consideration,” he said. “We have to err on the side of caution and ensure that we have the resources available. It’s much easier to stay ready than to get ready.”