LOCAL CALIFORNIA

Multiple fires are raging in Southern California. A series of Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires have destroyed hundreds of structures, forced thousands to flee and smothered the region with smoke in what officials predicted would be a pitched battle for days.

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Firefighters at mercy of Santa Ana winds as fire siege enters third day

Q: So what is the forecast?

A red-flag warning has been extended through Saturday across much of Southern California as firefighters struggle to get a handle on several wildfires raging across the region.

The warning, which indicates extreme fire danger because of gusty winds and low humidity, will be in effect through Saturday in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, where fires have scorched more than 80,000 acres and destroyed many homes.

Weather officials expect winds to pick up through Thursday, bringing “damaging” gusts of 50 to 70 mph that could knock down trees and power lines, and cause fire to spread rapidly. They also warned of isolated gusts of up to 80 mph in the mountains.

Winds will gradually weaken Friday and Saturday, officials said.

Q: Why are the the winds such a factor for firefighters?

Powerful winds can push existing fires but also help fan new ones.

“We are in the beginning of a protracted wind event,” said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds,” Pimlott said. “At the end of the day, we need everyone in the public to listen and pay attention. This is not ‘watch the news and go about your day.’ This is pay attention minute by minute … keep your head on a swivel.”

Q: How do high winds affect the firefight?

When the Thomas fire broke out Monday evening, the winds were so strong that water-dropping aircraft were grounded and firefighters on the ground could not keep pace with the flames.

Those conditions continued through much of Tuesday, as the fire swept through neighborhoods in Ventura, destroying hundreds of homes.

The firefight improved as winds calmed, allowing officials to do battle in the air and on the ground when the fire was moving slower.

But even Wednesday, the size of the fire in Ventura County continued to grow.

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