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Fox News Weather Center

Dangerous wildfires continue amid record heat in the Southwest

Dangerously hot weather has baked the Southwest over the past few days and will continue through the early part of the week, expanding the threat for wildfires.

Numerous wildfires have been burning across eight western states as dry weather and scorching heat has left the region a tinderbox. These conditions are expected to continue and worsen over the next couple of days.

An expansive and strong ridge of high pressure aloft is driving the heat across the Southwest through the Plains and will continue to be a factor through the early part of the week.

"The exceptionally hot and dry weather will continue to keep the fire threat elevated," AccuWeather Meteorologist Carl Erickson said.

Temperatures are expected to challenge records over the next couple of days in several major western United States cities. The hottest temperatures across the Desert Southwest will rise into the 120s F.

"As daytime highs peak in the afternoon and evening and humidity levels drop to their minimum, the risk for wildfire ignition will be the highest," Erickson added.

While winds on a large scale have not been overly strong, localized wind events are aiding some of the fires, including the Sherpa Fire west of Santa Barbara, California.

The Sherpa Fire has burned 7,811 acres and about 45 percent of the perimeter is contained as 1,900 personnel battle the blaze, according to InciWeb.

A localized wind event, called the sundowner winds, have been giving firefighters issues as they try to get the Sherpa Fire under control.

The sundowner winds are caused by a north to south movement of air from the mountains to the coast. This causes the air to warm, become drier and often times leads to gustier winds.

The sundowner winds typically show up when high pressure is north of Santa Barbara and often occur in the late afternoon or evening.

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Weather observations from the Santa Barbara airport showed a spike in temperature around 5 p.m. local time Saturday as the temperature jumped 13 degrees in an hour. The jump in temperature, quick drop in humidity and strong gusts of wind can cause unpredictable wildfire behavior.

The winds are often channeled through passes which can lead to strengthening. All of these factors can fuel wildfires and make them larger.

The fire forced the closure of U.S. 101, a main highway in Santa Barbara, towards the end of this past week but it has since reopened, according to the Associated Press.

Wildfires are also burning across New Mexico, including the Dog Head Fire, southeast of Albuquerque. Total personnel fighting this fire is near 1,000 as they try to increase containment, according to InciWeb.

This fire has destroyed 24 homes and 21 other minor structures and remains at nine percent contained as of early Sunday morning.

Many ranches throughout the area and the fairgrounds at Expo New Mexico are offering up space for livestock such as cows, horses, goats and chickens that have been displaced by the fire, according to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

With thermometers expected to reach record territory, vegetation will only become drier as humidity levels decrease through the day.

"This is some serious and dangerous heat and the fire danger will be exceptionally high," AccuWeather Western U.S. Expert Ken Clark said.

The ridge of high pressure will continue to push the storm track across Canada and the far northern tier of the United States, keeping any widespread rainfall from dropping southward.

There can be isolated thunderstorms early this week across the higher terrain of the Southwest but this can often times be more detrimental than beneficial due to lightning causing the ignition of more wildfires.

The heat will ease a little towards the end of the week but dry weather and the wildfire threat will continue.

Britney Truempy also contributed to this article.