Fierce Santa Anas Whip Wildfires into a Frenzy

Fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds, a series of ravaging wildfires barreled through Southern California all the way to the Pacific Ocean, leaving more than 230,000 acres of scorched earth in their wake. Tens of thousands have been forced to flee.

The biggest blaze, dubbed the Thomas Fire, was based in Ventura County. That’s where more than 800 structures were consumed, including a psychiatric hospital. The fire has since moved west into the Santa Barbara foothills.

Ventura city officials took to Facebook to order a curfew between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., as the wildfires threatened more than 15,000 structures: “During this curfew time, no person shall be upon the public street, avenue, alley, park, or other public place or unimproved public realty within the entire jurisdictional limits of the City.”

Residents were also ordered to boil their tap water as a result of fire-related power outages.

Blame It on the Wind

It’s the Santa Ana winds, measuring 60 to 70 mph, that have whipped flames through the region’s foothill communities. Firefighters struggle to keep up.

The Santa Anas are infamous for fanning regional wildfires. This year’s unusual fall weather also helped spark the fire. Typically, the region receives rain before the Santa Ana winds descend upon the area. But this year has seen no rain for three months, so the winds hit very dry terrain.

The combination of wind, heat, and dryness quickly turned the chaparral into explosive fuel.

In fact, the Thomas Fire follows nine of the driest consecutive months in Southern California history, according to climatologist Bill Patzert. “Pile that onto the long drought of the past decade and a half, we are in apocalyptic conditions,” he said.

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Nightmare Revisited

A decade ago these same Santa Ana winds roared through the region and fueled a devastating week of wildfires. Those fires resulted in the deaths of 10 people, the evacuation of more than a million, and the decimation of 972,000 acres.

Several of the 2007 fires were triggered by power lines damaged by the high Santa Anas, at times gusting up to 85 mph. The first fire was ignited on October 20, 2007. The series of wildfires was finally extinguished 24 days later.

The October 2007 wildfires caused more than $1.5 billion dollars in property damages, and about 1,600 families lost their homes.

The following video clip offers a taste of just how strong the Santa Anas can be:


Featured Image: Creative Commons Photo by Zach Dischner

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