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Gov. Schwarzenegger warns of high wind danger

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged Southern California residents today to plan ahead for the first major winds of the season this weekend.

In the north state, high winds are expected to whip through the weekend, prompting officials to caution that fire danger is elevated.

With Santa Ana winds expected Sunday, Schwarzenegger said he has directed his Office of Emergency Services and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to prepare for possible wildfires.

"Given the Santa Ana winds forecast, Southern California residents should rest assured that the state is monitoring weather conditions closely and working with firefighters and local officials to ensure that we are all prepared for potential wildfires," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

"During this time, it's also important that residents make sure they are prepared if a fire does strike by taking steps such as having a family disaster plan in place and extra supplies readily available."

The Governor's Office said the National Weather Service is predicting that Santa Ana winds will move across Southern California by Sunday and will become "strong and gusty below the canyons and passes" by Monday morning.

A strong cold front will continue to exert its influence on Northern California with dry winds ranging from 20 to 25 mph today in the Sacramento area, significantly increasing the danger of wildfires.

The National Weather Service reports that gusts could hit as high as 38 mph.

High temperatures will hit 71 degrees today, making for a chilly morning and and breezy, cold night for Friday night high school football.

The NWS also forecasts winds between 16 and 22 mph on Saturday. Gusts will hit about 33 mph.

On Sunday winds should abate and high temperatures will be 74 degrees. On Monday, Sacramento's highs temperatures will warm into the 80s.

The dry north wind raises the danger of a devastating fire this weekend in Northern California and has prompted the state to increase its firefighting presence.

Daniel Berlant, information officer for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said Northern California is under a "red flag warning" because of high winds and low humidity.

"North winds are dry and increase fire danger," Berlant said. "In the north part of the state, most of our large and devastating fires are caused by north winds. So in response, we have put more firefighters on duty so that if a new fire does start, we will have a lot of resources to jump on that fire quickly."

He said vegetation is tinder-dry and the little rain that Northern California has received has not alleviated fire dangers.

"Many people become complacent, thinking that just a little rain helps," Berlant said. "But a day of north winds lowers the moisture level in the brush, increasing fire danger."

Meanwhile, Southern California is anticipating possible Santa Ana winds -- which would dramatically increase the fire threat there.

"We are monitoring both parts of the state for possible fires," Berlant said.

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