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Powerful Santa Ana Winds Drive Destructive Fires Across Southern California

The Thomas Fire burns along a hillside near Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017.
More than a thousand firefighters were struggling to contain a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California on December 5 that has left at least one person dead, sent thousands fleeing, and was choking the area with thick black smoke. / AFP PHOTO / Kyle Grillot        (Photo credit should read KYLE GRILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
The Thomas Fire burns along a hillside near Santa Paula, California, on December 5, 2017. Kyle Grillot/Getty Images

At least five wildfires, fanned by abnormally powerful Santa Ana winds, are raging in Southern California and are expected to burn for multiple days, resisting containment efforts Tuesday and consuming tens of thousands of acres and more than 150 homes, according to state officials.

The largest blaze, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, broke out Monday night and has scorched more than 50,000 acres and pushed into the city of Ventura itself, where more than 100,000 people live. It’s unclear if there have been any fatalities. Thousands have evacuated their homes, and Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the county.

The fire was particularly remarkable for its speed. According to the New York Times, authorities first learned of the fire around 6:24 p.m. on Monday. By midnight, it was estimated to have spread to 10,000 acres. According to CNN, the fire was at 0 percent containment Tuesday night.

North of downtown Los Angeles, the Creek Fire expanded to more than 11,000 acres and began to threaten the edge of the city itself. Los Angeles’ mayor declared a state of emergency in the city and said more than 150,000 people live in evacuation areas. The Rye Fire, also in the county, tore through 5,000 acres near the city of Santa Clarita, according to the Washington Post. Two smaller fires are burning in San Bernardino County, and fire officials have said one of them is completely contained.

The outbreak follows a deadly series of fires in October in Northern California wine country that killed more than 40 people. It is already the most destructive year of fires on record for the state.

Hot, dry Santa Ana winds that blow in from the California desert make the fires particularly virile, and recent parched conditions in the region have made the land particularly susceptible. Some parts of the state experienced record highs in the summer and fall, and Los Angeles experienced a heat wave that saw a sweltering 100-degree temperature in October. According to the Los Angeles Times, the past nine months have been some of the driest consecutive months in the region’s history. The last time a Santa Ana wind event lasted as long as this one is projected to, the Times reports, was 10 years ago.

The Santa Ana winds relented slightly on Wednesday, but fire officials expect them to pick back up Wednesday night and Thursday. The National Weather Service has warned that on Thursday, an even larger area of Southern California was expected to experience “dangerous and extremely critical fire weather conditions.” The winds are projected to reach 70 miles per hour in the most critical areas.

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