(Bloomberg) – Dry and warm gusts blowing in from the desert have elevated the wildfire risk in Southern California to critical, several weeks after deadly flames tore through wine country to the north.

The strongest Santa Ana winds of the season threaten more than 14,000 square miles (36,260 square kilometers) covering a population in excess of 19.9 million, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. That includes Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino. They're expected to last through Thursday.

"Fire does very well in those conditions," said Richard Bann, a forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. "The fuels, the grasses, anything that might have been growing, they are cured and ready to burn. You get any of these conditions and a fire starts."

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