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Gusty winds elevate fire risk in Southern California

By Renee Duff, AccuWeather, Accuweather.com

Atmospheric conditions will set up just right for a period of strong winds, known as Santa Anas, to whip through Southern California and create heightened wildfire concerns through Friday night.

"As high pressure builds across the interior West, a Santa Ana event is expected to unfold across the region to end the holiday week, bringing an increased wildfire threat, as well the potential for some localized damaging winds," AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda said.

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Santa Ana wind events are typical across the region during the fall months and their impacts on wildfire ignition and spread can be significant.

"The air with these winds descends from high to lower elevations, which causes it to accelerate and become even drier," Sojda said.

Red flag warnings have been put into effect by the National Weather Service through Friday evening in anticipation of the dry, gusty winds.

The strongest wind gusts, on the order of 50-60 mph with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 70 mph, will blow across the mountains and through the northeast- to southwest-oriented canyons and passes through Friday night.

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Even though this event will not be characterized by a sudden jump in temperatures as some Santa Ana wind events are, the dryness of the air, combined with the gusty winds and parched ground, can make up for the lack of heat in this case.

Highs are forecast to be near to slightly above average through Friday, generally in the upper 60s to lower 70s F.

The rain-free and seasonable conditions will offer up residents excellent opportunities for safe and socially-distanced outdoor holiday gatherings.

Outdoor cooking should be done with utmost caution, however, and flames should be fully extinguished before leaving the area. Any spark can be quickly fanned into a raging inferno given the gusty winds anticipated. Caution should also be exercised when using outdoor power equipment, and cigarette butts and matches should be properly discarded.

Lawn furniture, planters and other loose outdoor objects should be secured or properly stowed away to prevent them from being tossed around in the windy weather.

"Along with the high fire threat, the wind gusts can also be locally strong enough to cause some damage to trees and power lines, especially in canyons and passes where the wind gets funneled on its way to the coast," Sojda said.

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Live power lines that are downed can also be sources of sparks that may ignite a wildfire.

Drivers along portions of interstates 5 and 15 will need to keep a firm grip on the steering wheel to avoid crossing over into other lanes of traffic. High-profile vehicles will be especially susceptible to the strong winds.

Winds will lessen over the weekend, but AccuWeather meteorologists are already looking ahead to the middle of next week when yet another Santa Ana wind event may unfold.

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