Red flag conditions return to the Bay Area

Red flag conditions return to the Bay Area for a second week, beginning Monday night in the North Bay. 

The National Weather Service issued the warning for Napa, Sonoma, Solano and Marin counties, due to heat, low humidity, and gusting winds.

Beginning at 11 pm Monday, the alert runs through 8 am Wednesday, but may be extended, or followed by a new warning. 

"Wind events with super high-velocity dry winds, those have been increasing," said Marin County Fire Dept. Engineer Henry Bustamante.

Bustamante took KTVU up a fire-road to the summit of 2,500 foot Mt. Tamalpais, where winds can be fierce.

"You can see solid brush fields, stuff that would really burn," said Bustamante, "and you can hear how dry and crunchy the ground is just walking around."

During August lightning storms, when some devastating fires began in neighboring counties, a tree near Mt. Tam's summit was struck and began burning.

Reported promptly, the fire was confined to a small area.

But with a little more time in the thick forest canopy, and hundreds of homes nestled in the forest, it could have been catastrophic.

"The wrong fire on the wrong day would be almost impossible to stop if it got going," said Bustamante.

The recent Woodward Fire near Olema was almost impossible to stop for a time.

Burning mostly in the Point Reyes National Seashore, it persisted for some six weeks, and forced widespread evacuations in West Marin at first.    

"We anticipate dangerous conditions to return this week with winds whipping back up," said Governor Gavin Newsom, at his briefing on Monday.   

He recapped the year so far: 31 lives lost, almost 10,000 structures destroyed, 4.2 million acres burned, and 3.8 million of those acres just since August.

Newsom emphasizes the role of climate change:

"It's not the only reason, the exclusive reason, we've had fires historically," said the Governor, " but not with the ferocity, the devastation of these mega-fires."

In Newsom's words: "Mother Nature bats last, and she bats a thousand, she's chemistry, she's biology, she's physics, she's not a political point of view or an ideology."

Although the Bay Area has no big fires burning, there are a dozen large fires or fire complexes around the state.

"Like everybody, we're concerned that we've entered this new world in which fires are more intense," said Mill Valley resident Carolyn Supple, who recently moved into a home on the slopes of Mt. Tam.

"This is definitely new and it means being prepared, keeping on top of all the warnings, and working with local officials so that we evacuate if necessary." 

For firefighters, the cooling rains can come anytime.  

"Now a spark starts a fire that ends up 20,000 acres in a day," said Bustamante.

"When I started as a firefighter, a 20,000 acre fire would be the biggest one that year and now it's an after-thought."

Governor Newsom noted the months of August and September were California's hottest on record.