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Fox News Weather Center

Wildfire danger to ramp up as strong winds howl over Southern California

Strong winds and low humidity will elevate the risk of wildfire ignition in Southern California over the next few days.

A departing storm over the Intermountain West will create gusty winds throughout the region.

Moderate sundowner winds, or strong northerly winds through the mountains and canyons in Southern California, will develop into Friday. Weak Santa Ana winds, or northeasterly winds, will unfold over the weekend.

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Sundowner winds tend to be strongest during the evening and overnight hours.

While winds will kick up on Wednesday night, the strongest winds will occur on Thursday night. Breezy conditions will continue into Friday.

A firefighting helicopter prepares to drop water on flames burning over a ridge into Rattlesnake Canyon near Santa Barbara, Calif., Thursday, May 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Gusts during the wind event will frequent 40-50 mph. However, gusts up to 60 mph are possible over the ridges, as well as the north-south oriented canyons, valleys and passes. Some areas along the Interstate 5 corridor and the Antelope Valley will be most at risk, due to the north-south orientation into Friday.

"Brush conditions are very dry near and north of Los Angeles, while some rain from Paine occurred farther south in San Diego and farther to the east toward Arizona recently, according to Evan Duffey, AccuWeather meteorologist and firefighter.

In addition to the fire threat, areas of blowing dust can create hazards on area highways. Be alert for sudden changes in visibility from dust or smoke.

Crosswinds can be strong enough to push over large trucks and other high profile vehicles, especially along west to east configured highways, such as Interstate 8, I-10, I-15 and I-40.

The gusty winds, blowing dust and fire weather conditions will also spread into parts of Nevada and Arizona for a time.

"During this weekend, the flow of air will be more from the northeast, which will allow some Santa Ana winds to occur," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

Following a cooldown from the Sundowner winds into Friday, Santa Ana winds will help warm the region over the weekend. The higher temperatures will make it easier for the dry brush to ignite and continue burning.

During this weekend, the strongest winds will be in the valleys and canyons that are orientated northeast to southwest.

The combination of plummeting humidity levels, dry brush and lack of rain will exponentially raise the risk of wildfire ignition. Where fires ignite, they can spread due to the strength of the wind.

Shifting winds progressing through the weekend will make fighting any fires that develop very challenging.

People will need to be extra careful in these conditions through this weekend. Do not attempt to use outdoor flames. Do not throw cigarettes out the window. Use extreme caution with outdoor power equipment. Avoid parking vehicles over high brush as the hot exhaust system can catch that brush on fire.

Be especially vigilant of others and immediately report downed power lines to officials so that any fire produce by the sparks can be quickly put out.

To date, wildfires have consumed 4.8 million acres across the nation this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This year so far, 503,586 acres have burned in Southern California alone.