Watch California's powerful, relentless winds stoke the state's fires

Mark Kaufman
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It's the time of year when winds really kick up in California, and firefighters on Tuesday night captured footage of relentless gusts driving a new blaze over the parched terrain. 

Firefighters in San Bernardino County — an arid region east of Los Angeles — spent the night combatting the newly-born Sierra Fire amid potent seasonal winds, known as Santa Anas.

Though this particular fire (147 acres and well-contained), is quite small compared to the expansive Camp and Woolsey fires, it shows how persistent 50 mph gusts can whip fire over the land — land that has been parched by a confluence of dry winds and a long, scorching summer. 

In the video, a bulldozer, which had been clearing vegetation to limit the spread of fire into an adjacent community, can be seen working while the winds blow smoke through the air and stoke brush fires in the background.

Santa Ana winds are notorious for stoking fall fires in California. These dry winds, traveling east from the great U.S. deserts, pick up in the fall and eventually peak in December, Sasha Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said in an interview. 

But typically by mid-November — and certainly December — some rains will wet the dry California vegetation. 

The winds will always blow, but these days they're increasingly gusting over dried-out terrain. This makes for perfect fire conditions. 

SEE ALSO: When will this terrible wildfire season in California end?

"Now we’re in our traditional fire season, but the fuels are untraditionally dry this late into the season," said Gershunov.

"This seems to be getting more common as the climate changes," he added.

Some of the most destructive, deadliest wildfires occur in Southern California, a place not defined by pine forests, but shrubs and grasslands. 

Here, a confluence of Santa Ana winds, development in fire-prone areas, and climate change have boosted the state's growing wildfire woes.

Overall, the amount of land burned in the United States has more than doubled over the last 30 years, and predictably, these fires have been enhanced by a warming globe.

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