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High temperatures, gusting winds worry firefighters

September 21, 2009 |  7:29 am

Firefighters were on heightened alert today as hot, dry weather and winds returned to Southern California.

The massive Station fire was supposed to be contained on Tuesday, but officials said that might be postponed if the winds pick up and push the flames.

Although the region has experienced high temperatures over the last month, the addition of gusty winds is adding to the concerns.

"If any fires were to develop or ignite, it could be a situation where the fire could explosively grow," said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. "It's going to be a potentially hazardous situation, so let's cross our fingers."

A high-pressure system building over the Great Basin area today will bring low humidity and temperatures in the high 90s to the Los Angeles area. Temperatures at the beaches is expected to remain in the 80s, but the mercury is expected to reach triple digits inland and in the San Fernando Valley. A high of 98 degrees is expected downtown Tuesday and Wednesday, with temperatures surging to 105 degrees in the warmest parts of the Valley on those days. "It's going to be a scorcher," said Jamie Stern of the National Weather Service.

Fire officials are most concerned about Santa Ana winds moving into the region. By this evening, forecasters are predicting winds from the northeast of up to 20 to 30 miles per hour in the mountain passes and canyons, with gusts up to 45 miles per hour.

Forecasters have issued a red-flag warning for tonight through Wednesday evening covering the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Racing against the weather, crews fighting the Station fire in the Angeles National Forest spent the weekend soaking hot spots north of Mt. Wilson with more than 80,000 gallons of water. Officials hope to contain the Station fire, which has chewed through more than 160,000 acres since it began on Aug. 26, by Tuesday.

After nearly a month fighting the blaze, Fire Information Officer Carol Underhill of the U.S. Forest Service said, officials are relying primarily on aerial surveillance and infrared technology to detect burning embers and prevent the fire from spreading into pockets of untouched forest land within the fire perimeter. Officials used a water tender Sunday to spread fire retardant along the northern slope of Mt. Wilson, while ground crews continued mopping up the fire.

"Right now it's smoldering in the duff layer -- the pine needles and dry leaves," she said. "We're taking an abundance of caution just trying to address those hot spots this weekend before we get that windy weather."

Facing similar concerns, firefighters in Riverside County made significant headway Sunday stamping out a 340-acre brush fire that spread across rolling hills east of Temecula after it ignited Saturday afternoon near California 79 and Vail Lake Road.

At least 12 structures were destroyed and more than 30 homes were evacuated within a two-mile radius of the ignition point. The fire burned along both sides of California 79, damaging power poles and causing outages. That led officials to close a portion of the highway for much of the weekend as officials repaired power lines and snuffed out hot spots. The highway reopened Sunday evening.