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Explosive fire growth threatens Southern California as strongest Santa Ana winds of season howl

By Kristina Pydynowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
December 07, 2017, 6:45:29 AM EST

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More residents of Southern California will have to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice as the strongest and most prolonged Santa Ana wind event so far this season continues through this week.

Four large fires are actively burning across Southern California as of Thursday morning.

Thomas fire Ventura, CA - flames 12/5 (AP)

Flames consume a home on Via Arroyo as a wildfire rages in Ventura, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

More lives, including those of firefighters, and property may be threatened by rapidly spreading wildfires as no relief from the gusty winds will come to Southern California the rest of this week.

"This Santa Ana event is different than most that hit Southern California," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said.

"Usually, there is a 12- to 24-hour period of the highest winds and then the winds decrease," he said. "This one will be a four- to five-day event, which will make fighting ongoing fires much more difficult. The risk for additional fast-moving fires is quite high."

Static Fire Risk Into Friday

Santa Ana winds began whipping the mountains and communities through and below the passes and canyons of Southern California at the start of this week as a strong area of high pressure settled into the Great Basin.

Since the high will not be quick to depart and/or weaken, gusty winds will continue through the week, as AccuWeather has been warning about since early in the weekend.

Gusts between 40 and 50 mph in the canyons and passes and 60 and locally 80 mph in the mountains will be a daily occurrence this week.

"The winds will make it difficult to get air support into these wildfires," Clark said. "Helicopters may be able to aid firefighters, but the winds can be more problematic for larger aircraft."

The fire danger on Thursday may become more extreme when compared to Tuesday as temperatures are expected to be higher and the strongest winds will cover a larger area of Southern California.

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On Tuesday, the mountains east of San Diego escaped the strongest winds that whipped the higher terrain surrounding Los Angeles. This is not expected to be the case on Thursday.

As is typical during Santa Ana wind events, winds around Downtown Los Angeles will stay calm.

Residents will have to use extreme caution with cigarette butts, campfires and any equipment that produces sparks through this week.

The air dries out dramatically as winds blow from inland areas to the coast, putting Southern California at significant risk for any sparks or embers to grow into larger blazes that the winds can make uncontrollable.

Ventura county wildfire 12517

(Photo/Ventura County Fire Department)

The winds may also down trees and power lines. The exterior of weaker structures may sustain damage. In addition to causing power outages, the sparks from downed lines and transformers may also start fires.

Motorists planning to travel on Interstates 5, 8, 10 and 15 through the wind-prone areas of Southern California can face significant hazards. Threatening blazes may force officials to close more roads.

Dangerous crosswinds threaten to overturn high-profile vehicles, including those on I-15’s Cajon Pass. Visibility can be dramatically reduced at times as the winds kick up blowing dust or transport wildfire smoke.

Poor air quality will not be limited to the areas in the immediate vicinity of the fires. The winds are strong enough to spread the smoke hundreds of miles downwind.

Static SoCal Dry Breezy Weekend

Large waves and swells will also continue to batter Catalina Harbor as the winds howl.

"Catalina Harbor is typically a very calm place except during Santa Ana wind events," Clark said. "Due to the pounding seas, there is concern for flooding and boat damage."

Winds will begin to decrease during the day Friday. However, a breeze will continue to stir and very dry air will remain through this weekend.

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