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Wind-driven blaze forces hundreds to evacuate Southern Calif. campground

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 5/2/2021 Renee Duff

Gusty winds and continued dry weather have caused wildfires to flare up in portions of California, including one blaze in San Diego County that exploded in size Saturday afternoon. And the fire threat is not over yet, according to forecasters.

A brush fire, dubbed the Southern Fire, flared up in the community of Shelter Valley, California, near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park late Saturday afternoon.

The fire was spreading at a "critical rate" shortly after it began, according to CalFire San Diego, exploding in size from 40 acres to 800 acres in about an hour's time as high winds whipped through the region.


The National Weather Service has a wind advisory in effect until 11 p.m. PDT Sunday for the mountains of Southern California, with gusts up to 55 mph possible.

The Southern Fire's rapid growth prompted the evacuation of around 500 people at the Butterfield Ranch campground, according to Times of San Diego. Three structures have reportedly been destroyed, and the fire's containment stands at 5%.

The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation, but initial reports from officials are that a man working on a metal fence post may have triggered sparks which ignited nearby dry vegetation.

Gusty winds will keep the danger of rapidly spreading fires high across Southern California into Sunday night. Strong winds are also forecast to whip in Northern California, but are likely to last much longer. Red flag warnings are in effect until Tuesday in this part of the state.

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Red flag warnings (red) and wind advisories (tan) were in effect from California to Texas early Sunday morning, May 2, 2021. (AccuWeather)

Over 97% of California is in a drought, with conditions ranging from moderate to exceptional, according to the latest update from the United States Drought Monitor. At the start of the water year (Oct. 1, 2020), 67% of the state was in a drought. A lackluster wet season contributed to the expanding dryness.

Forecasters say that no rain is in sight for parched California through at least the middle of the week, and building heat will add further stress to the drought-stricken state.

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High temperatures are forecast to climb into the 90s from Sacramento to Fresno, California, about 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit above early May normals. Downtown Los Angeles will soar into the middle 80s by midweek, when middle 70s are more common. Triple digits are likely to return to the deserts.

There may be an opportunity for a storm to bring some wet weather to Northern California toward the end of the week, but AccuWeather meteorologists are not hopeful that this will be a big rainmaker for the region.

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Farther east across the Southwest, fire dangers are also likely to remain elevated for a time, especially to end this weekend.

A storm with rain and mountain snow may tamp down the fire risk across the Four Corners region, at least temporarily, by Monday.

Experts urge residents and visitors across the Southwest to use extreme caution with any sources that could lead to fire ignition as the fire danger remains elevated. Parking cars over dry brush, for instance, or using outdoor power equipment and outdoor grills could spark fires.

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