Officials in Southern California began deploying firefighting crews and equipment Sunday as meteorologists predicted a return of the dry winds that stoked last month's devastating brush blazes.
The preparations came after criticism that the state did not effectively marshal available air resources at the start of last month's blazes, which consumed 780 square miles, killed 10 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
State fire officials said Sunday that 28 fixed-wing aircraft, 13 more aircraft than normal for this time of year, would be in place to extinguish any flames early this week. One hundred fire engines and 10 water tenders were also being staged in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, state officials said.
U.S. military officials, meanwhile, said they were deploying four C-130 aircraft with firefighting capabilities to the Channel Islands Air National Guard station in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, to help with any flare-ups.
In suburban Orange County, fire Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion said his agency was moving 10 additional fire engines and two helicopters into place for immediate responses to brush fires.
"We are taking this predicted wind event very seriously and ensuring that we are well prepared," Concepcion said.
An Associated Press investigation revealed last month that military helicopters sat grounded for days at the start of the wildfires, in part because of a shortage of state fire "spotters" who were required to be onboard.
State fire officials initially said high winds had grounded virtually all aircraft in the first two days after the flames broke out, so it would not have mattered if additional state fire spotters had been available.
But documents released Saturday showed a dozen air tankers and five state helicopters flew more than 70 hours in firefighting missions on Oct. 21, the first full day of the firestorm.
The National Weather Service on Sunday predicted gusts as high as 60 mph in mountainous areas of Southern California starting Tuesday night.
Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier said that temperatures would not reach last month's highs, when the series of fires began roaring out of control, and that wind speeds would be less powerful than those found in traditional Santa Ana conditions.
But sustained winds are expected hit 30 mph and last until the weekend, with moisture levels sinking to critical fire threshold levels, Meier said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)