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Fires erupt as fierce winds rake wide area of California

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — Powerful winds raking California on Tuesday reignited fires where a massive summer wildfire burned south of the San Francisco region, authorities said.

Evacuations were ordered in Santa Cruz County, where gusty winds reignited fresh fires in an area where a summer wildfire torched 1,500 buildings.

The state’s firefighting agency said it had responded to at least a dozen vegetation fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in 12 hours.

“Fires within the (hashtag)CZULightningComplex burn area were regenerated by high winds,” the local unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection tweeted. “Other units in the area are battling their own vegetation fires as well.”

What became known as the CZU Complex started early on Aug. 16, 2020, during a barrage of thousands of bolts of lightning. Separate fires eventually merged into a complex of blazes. It charred more than 135 square miles (350 square kilometers) across San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. One person died.

Wildland fires can continue to smolder long after open flames have disappeared.

Winds Tuesday also hit other parts of the state, where some residents were blacked out by utilities to prevent downed or damaged power lines from sparking.

Most of California is experiencing drought conditions and the remainder is considered abnormally dry. Winter snowfall and rain have largely been woeful.

Gusts howled at speeds up to 95 mph (152.8 kph) in the Mayacamas Mountains to the north of San Francisco Bay, and winds raised clouds of ash and dust from wildfire burn scars across Monterey County, the regional National Weather Service office said.

High wind warnings were posted in the Sierra Nevada and adjacent foothills.

“People should avoid being outside in forested areas and around trees and branches,” the Hanford weather office wrote. “If possible, remain in the lower levels of your home during the windstorm, and avoid windows. Use caution if you must drive.”

In Southern California, the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds were ramping up, making travel hazardous for big rigs and other high-profile vehicles. One gust hit 86 mph (138.4 kph) in northern Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said.

The city of Los Angeles instituted its program of restricting parking in hilly neighborhoods where narrow, winding streets can be difficult for fire engines to maneuver.

Downtown Los Angeles has had only 1.95 inches (4.95 centimeters) of rain since the Oct. 1 start of the “water year,” nearly 4 inches (10.16 centimeters) below normal.

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