Gusting Santa Ana winds and dangerously dry conditions returned to the region Thursday, prompting forecasters to issue a red flag warning of critical fire danger that will last into Friday.

The red flag warning will be in effect until 6 p.m. Friday for Riverside County valleys and mountains and the San Gorgonio Pass near Banning.

According to the National Weather Service, the forecast calls for northeast to east winds of 25 to 35 mph, with gusts reaching 40 to 50 mph, along with some isolated gusts as high as 60 mph in the Cajon and San Gorgonio passes.

The winds began developing Wednesday morning, with the strongest winds Thursday morning. But wind speeds began diminishing Thursday afternoon.

“Santa Ana winds will continue through the rest of today (Thursday), weakening and becoming less widespread into Friday morning,” according to the National Weather Service. “Portions of the San Diego County mountains and foothills as well as wind prone areas in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties could see an slight uptick in wind speeds Friday morning, but the strongest gusts are forecast to be weaker and more confined to wind prone areas than this morning. Strongest wind gusts tomorrow are expected to be 40 to 50 mph. Winds will continue to weaken through the day Friday, with winds returning to their usual diurnal pattern Saturday.”

Humidity levels, meanwhile, fell to about 5% Thursday.

“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” according to the NWS. “Outdoor burning is not recommended.”

In response to the high fire danger, Cal Fire “pre-positioned” four engine strike teams and four hand-crew strike teams across the region to more quickly respond if any wildfires erupt. Crews were positioned in Riverside, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Riverside County Fire Chief Bill Weiser urged residents to take precautions during the wind event, particularly by avoiding cooking fires that could easily spread.

“Fire prevention begins at home,” Weiser said in a statement. “During the Thanksgiving holidays, we want everyone to enjoy their time with family and friends safely and responsibly.”

The winds are expected to diminish by the end of the weekend, along with a “gradual recovery in humidity,” forecasters said.

As is typical during major wind events, Southern California Edison officials warned that the utility could impose Public Safety Power Shutoffs, cutting electricity in particularly wind-prone areas to reduce the risk of wildfires being sparked by wind-damaged electrified power lines.

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, there were 27,872 SCE customers in Riverside County who were under a power shutoff and another 43,408 who were under consideration for a shutoff.

Residents can go to SCE’s website at www.sce.com/wildfire/psps to see if their area is under consideration for potential power cuts.

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