Santa Ana winds returned to the Southland Thursday, bringing the region a taste of warm winter weather but also raising the risk of wildfires with gusty and dry conditions.

Winds began building Wednesday afternoon in some areas, most notably in the western San Fernando Valley, where gusts of 35 to 45 mph were reported, according to the National Weather Service. The winds intensified in some areas Thursday, while humidity levels dropped, prompting the issuance of a red flag warning of critical wildfire conditions.

The dry conditions are expected to continue into at least Saturday.

“North to northeast winds will continue over Los Angeles and Ventura Counties through Friday with decreasing humidities through Friday,” according to the NWS. “Along with persistently dry fuels, this combination of wind and humidity will result in critical fire weather conditions over the valleys and mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with a chance of needing to be extended into Saturday.”

A red flag warning of critical fire danger conditions took effect at 4 p.m. Thursday and will remain in force until 4 p.m. Friday for the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area, Los Angeles County mountains, Angeles National Forest and the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys. A separate red flag warning will also be in place during the same hours in inland Orange County and the Santa Ana mountains.

Wind gusts of 30 to 50 mph are anticipated across much of the affected areas, with humidity dropping to between 8% and 15%, according to the NWS.

Forecasters said winds are expected to die down Saturday night through Sunday, but they’ll pick up again Monday through Tuesday or Wednesday, “with a growing potential for moderate to strong winds and red flag conditions.”

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