USA/France — A red flag warning was issued for 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday in mountains on both sides of the San Gorgonio Pass.
Aviation and USFS personnel with French fire commanders, Major Pierre Bisone and Capitaine Philippe DelQuie, who oversee communities and forest lands outside the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011, at the USFS Tanker Base in San Bernardino.
With the likelihood of dry Santa Ana winds increasing for Wednesday, pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel were on vigilant standby Tuesday at the U.S. Forest Service Tanker Base in San Bernardino.
A fire weather watch was upgraded Tuesday afternoon to a red flag warning for mountains on both sides of the San Gorgonio Pass and other parts of Southern California.
Offshore winds of 25 miles per hour to 35 mph were expected, with gusts to 60 mph possible, according to the Weather Service.
Warning and watch areas include Beaumont, Banning and Cabazon.
The red flag warning was issued for 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday. Blowing dust could reduce visibilities, and winds could affect bigrigs, motor homes and other high-profile vehicles, according to the Weather Service.
Broken tree limbs, downed power lines and other property damage could also occur during the wind event, the Weather Service advised.
“A strong ridge of high pressure will build over the great basin Tuesday night into Wednesday,” forecasters said Tuesday in an urgent fire weather message.
“The increasing offshore pressure gradient across Southern California is likely to create northeast winds gusting to around 50 mph late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning.”
Humidity levels are expected to fall below 15 percent later Wednesday morning, according to the Weather Service. By Wednesday evening, wind gusts should drop to 35 mph or lower.
Humidities in the teens will be possible again Thursday afternoon.
Two fire commanders from the south of France, a region with its own fire-friendly climate and vegetation, visited the tanker base Tuesday to learn more about air operations that help protect communities in and bordering the vast San Bernardino National Forest.
Major Pierre Bisone and Capitaine Philippe DelQuie, who oversee communities and forest lands outside the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, said they are both accustomed to working with helicopter air support during fire fights.
They had special admiration for the two Sikorsky-built Skycranes that sat primed and ready Tuesday at the Tanker Base.
“We have one that is based on Corse, the island of Corsica, where it is needed,” DelQuie said. “But it is too far to bring it to the mainland most of the time. It is strong, very strong.”
Deputy Chief Rocky Opliger, in charge of Fire and Aviation operations for the San Bernardino National Forest, said the visitors from France hoped to learn more about multi-agency coordination in Southern California.
“They’re both chief officers that run similar-type fire programs that we run here on the San Bernardino,” Opliger said. “Their environment and their climate’s very similar. It’s Mediterranean, heavy chapparal, brush.
“They have their forests, and even though they’re a lot smaller, it’s dense timber, so they have a pretty significant fire problem,” Opliger said. “They’ve taken a look at our programs, and they’ve run very similar aviation programs.”
Opliger has been with the Forest Service in Southern California since early 1970s. Over the years he has helped coordinate responses to some of the largest fires in memory, including the Old and Grand Prix fires of 2003.
Opliger is also one of 16 national incident commanders.
“What they’re looking for is to improve their efficiency of aviation and ground operations,” Opliger said. “We had them go to South Ops, to learn the coordination of all the various fire agencies.
“In France you have all the local city departments, you have the military, then you have the fire organizations, so getting them to work together can be a challenge,” Opliger said.
“They spent time at South Ops and they spent time at our comm center in the Federal Interagency Communications Center in San Bernardino, where we facilitate management of operations for the San Bernardino National Forest, national parks, both Joshua Tree and Death Valley, the Mojave Reserve,” Opliger said.
“They want to maximize all the agencies’ capability when you get a significant incident, similar to what we do, close coordinations between state and local government,” Opliger said. “Our responses very seldom are not single jurisdiction. They’re multi-jurisdiction, and of course in Southern California affect hundreds of thousands of people, residents.”
The San Bernardino National Forest, a region stretching across more than 1,000 square miles and two Southern California counties, covers an area from Mt. Baldy on the L.A. County line and Cucamonga Peak to both sides of the San Gorgonio Pass, and southeast into the Santa Rosa Mountains.