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Winds could undo progress in Calif. wildfire

Image: Wildfire near Anaheim Hills, California
A firefighter stands along State Route 241 as he watches smoke rising from a wildfire near Anaheim Hills, Calif., early Wednesday.Jae C. Hong / AP
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Santa Ana winds fanned a fire across 60 acres of Southern California hills before firefighters reduced it Wednesday to a smoldering — but still dangerous — black scar.

Containment lines were completed around 15 percent of the fire in an unincorporated area near Anaheim.

No homes were immediately threatened, but Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Greg McKeown said 50 mph gusts were expected. The gusts can whip a slumbering fire back to life.

About 200 firefighters and a helicopter were on the scene. Full containment was expected Thursday.

The fire erupted Tuesday as Santa Ana winds buffeted parts of the region. The National Weather Service said the winds would continue through Thanksgiving morning.

Advisories for 35 mph winds were issued widely and "red flag" warnings of fire danger were posted for the Santa Ana Mountains across Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.

Blowing out of the northeast and pushing damp ocean air offshore, the Santa Anas are double trouble: The dry air slashes humidity levels and saps moisture from vegetation, making it ready to burn, while fierce gusts can turn an otherwise routine fire into a fast-moving conflagration.

Midday temperatures were in the upper 70s and low 80s in many areas Wednesday.

Forecasters predicted cooler weather by Friday, with possible showers in the mountains. Another round of warm, dry offshore winds was predicted Sunday.

The notorious Santa Anas usually sweep in between October and February as dry air descending over the Great Basin flows toward Southern California and squeezes through mountain passes and canyons.