Published 9:14 PM EDT Oct 14, 2018
The winds notorious for fueling Southern California wildfires were expected to kick up for the first time this year on Sunday night, putting the region on alert, according to the National Weather Service.
The season's first major Santa Ana winds may reach gusts of up to 75 mph in the region's mountains, creating critical fire weather conditions through Tuesday night.
Last year, the winds drove the Thomas Fire, which destroyed more than 280,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. and took more than a month to contain. Before the Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California surpassed it this summer, the Thomas Fire was the largest wildfire in the state's modern history.
The fire warnings cover parts of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures can combine to fuel life and property-threatening fires.
In Los Angeles and Ventura counties especially, gusts of 45 to 65 mph will dry out fuel made wet by recent rainfall, according to the advisory. Minimum humidities between 4 and 12 percent Monday and Tuesday and temperatures reaching 81 to 91 degrees will also create dry, hot air that could rapidly spread fires. Any fires could start spot fires far ahead of the main body of flames and behave erratically, reported the Ventura County Star, part of the USA TODAY Network.
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The weather service advised the public to use caution near fire-ignition sources, noting the potential for rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior. Sudden gusty cross winds may also make driving difficult and cause power outages. People should stay away from downed trees and power lines, the Los Angeles forecast office tweeted.
The Santa Ana winds, which are most common from September through May, drive dry air from over the inland deserts of California and the Southwest. They blow over mountains between the state's coast and desert areas, compressing and warming up. The relative humidity of the warming air then drops, drying out vegetation and making prime fuel for wildfires.