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'Devil wind' stokes Southern California flames

  • Story Highlights
  • Santa Ana winds fanning wildfires in Southern California
  • Gusts of up to 65 mph expected Tuesday
  • Winds flow into region from the desert east of California
  • Winds common in fall and early spring
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(CNN) -- Firefighters battling the Southern California wildfires also are having to deal with the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that fanned the blazes into a firestorm.

The winds, which blow in from the desert, combined with extreme drought conditions have made the fires especially treacherous.

"The air, the fuel, the grass, plants, everything is dry. Then you have this hot blast of wind coming from the north which is nothing but dry weather," said Sam Padilla, a Los Angeles County Fire Department inspector.

"So on top of that, add fire. This is a windstorm with fire. That is why they call it a firestorm. Once the fire starts it gives it that ignition, then it's on, everything around it is dry and ready to go," he said.

"The wind pushes it," he said. "It's a blow torch."

The Santa Ana winds, nicknamed "devil winds," are fairly common in the fall and early spring.

The weather pattern occurs when a cool, high-pressure system forms in the desert east of California, according to the UCLA Meteorology Department's Web site.

As the cool air moves downhill toward the coast it gets warmer and warmer and moves faster and faster.

The winds get even stronger when they flow through the canyons in Southern California.

CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen compared it to the gust of wind you feel when you walk between two tall buildings.

The National Weather Service on Tuesday predicted sustained winds of 15 to 35 miles per hour across the region with gusts of up to 65 mph.

There is some good news for firefighters.

CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said the Santa Ana winds should start calming overnight and would continue weakening over the next few days.

She said lighter winds would be blowing in from the sea by the weekend, and that there was a possibility of rain next week. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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