Burned vehicles destroyed in the North Complex fire along Oro Quincy Highway on Friday, September 11, 2020 in Berry Creek, California. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Gusty winds could clear skies but complicate Northern California firefighting efforts

By Ruben Vives and Marisa Gerber

Los Angeles Times

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 to 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.

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