Thursday is one of the most dangerous wildfire days in recent Southern California history

Thursday looks to be a pivotal, frightening day in Southern California's battle against a wildfire siege that began early this week and has since spread out of control. At least three large fires are currently burning in and around Los Angeles, including one — the Thomas Fire — which has already burned at least 90,000 acres near Ventura.

Early Thursday morning, authorities closed the 101 Freeway in both directions due to strong winds pushing fire close to the road, cutting off movement between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Evacuation orders have gone out for idyllic communities in the Ojai Valley, as well as parts of Santa Barbara, as flames move toward the coast, according to the LA Times. More evacuations are likely on Thursday.

17 PHOTOS
Horrifying images of California wildfires show how rapidly destruction has spread
See Gallery
Horrifying images of California wildfires show how rapidly destruction has spread

The fires forced thousands of residents to evacuate their homes around Los Angeles and in suburbs throughout the region.

(Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Downtown Santa Paula was darkened by a power outage as strong winds pushed the Thomas Fire across thousands of acres.

(David McNew/Reuters)

The fire continues to threaten homes as it burns along the 101 freeway.

(Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

101 remains open, but authorities are advising people to avoid driving there.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The burned remains of cars lined a country road near Santa Paula.

(David McNew/Reuters)

Embers blew from a tree shortly before it fell near burned cars in Santa Paula.

(David McNew/Reuters)

Despite the violence of these images, no fatalities from the fires had been reported as of 2pm PT on Wednesday.

(David McNew/Reuters)

The fires destroyed over 150 structures and are threatening thousands more homes as of Wednesday afternoon.

(Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Emergency crews blocked roadways in Ventura on Wednesday.

(Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Ventura was hit hard by the Thomas fire, the first and largest of the blazes. The remains of a home are seen here after it burned to the ground.

(Mike Blake/Reuters)

Entire neighborhoods in Ventura were leveled. 

(Mike Blake/Reuters)

In the early morning on Tuesday, the Creek Fire broke out in the Kagel Canyon area in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles.

(Gene Blevins/Reuters)

A local man was seen praying on Wednesday morning near the Creek Fire in Sylmar.

(Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Thousands of firefighters are working to contain the blazes.

(Mike Blake/Reuters)

But the fires showed no signs of stopping on Wednesday afternoon.

(Gene Blevins/Reuters)

Dry, gusty Santa Ana winds continue to blow across the region.

(Gene Blevins/Reuters)

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The weather conditions on Thursday are downright dire, with strong, damaging winds rushing through mountain passes and down hillsides toward the coast. This will create extraordinarily dry air, and make any new fires or ones that are already in progress extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control. 

California’s fire history is replete with Santa Ana-driven, damaging blazes. However, the combination of factors present on Thursday — powerful winds, preexisting fires, desiccated vegetation, and also population growth — make it stand out as an especially risky day for the state.

According to news reports, more than 200,000 people have been evacuated due to the fires, and this number may climb as the winds interact with the fires to push them in new directions at a faster clip.

According to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), which forecasts the risk of wildfires based on anticipated weather conditions, fire weather is likely to be "extremely critical" — a rare designation reserved for only the most threatening situations — in a swath of Southern California on Thursday.

These combustible conditions are going to affect about 9.5 million people, the SPC forecasts. Another 10.7 million people reside in a "critical" fire weather zone, including the city of Los Angeles. Elevated fire risk is forecast for Southern California straight through Saturday. "Large fire spread and extreme fire behavior will occur with any new/ongoing fires," the SPC said in a forecast discussion.

The high winds may prevent aircraft, including helicopters and heavy water bombers, from doing their work, as well. This further inhibits firefighters' ability to contain these blazes.

The National Weather Service is predicting strong winds to last all day on Thursday. The winds have already exceeded hurricane force in some high elevation areas, with gusts above 75 miles per hour. 

While wildfires are a typical occurrence in Southern California each fall, when the dry, offshore Santa Ana winds blow, the current blazes are occurring later in the year than normal. In addition, conditions in the region are far drier than they normally would be.  

These fires are an illustration of how short-term weather variability can interact with longer-term climate trends to create a precedent-setting, potentially deadly extreme event. 

RELATED: Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire

17 PHOTOS
Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire
See Gallery
Faces of those impacted and battling the Ventura County, California wildfire
SHADOW HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 05:Judy Hofmann-Sanders hugs a firefighter on McBroom Street in Shadow Hills, where the Creek fire destroyed several homes. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Ventura County Firefighter Aaron Cohen catches his breath after fighting to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. 'We chased the fire from Santa Paula all the way into Ventura through the night,' Cohen said. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SYLMAR, CA - DECEMBER 5:A firefighter gets into position to battle the Creek Fire as a house is engulfed in flames near the intersection of Johanna Avenue and McBroom Street in Shadow Hills on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The fire started at about 3:42 a.m. in the area of Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads and has burned more than 11,000 acres. (Photo by Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SHADOW HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 05:Judy Hofmann-Sanders talks on the phone as her home is consumed by the Creek fire along McBroom Street in Shadow Hills. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Chino Valley Fire Engineer Chris Calvert works the engine as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Amanda Leon and husband Johnny Leon watch as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Local residents react as numerous homes burn on a hillside during a wind driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Local residents watch a home burn on a hillside during a wind-driven wildfire in Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A Ventura police officer squints his eyes in the smoke after using his fire extinguisher to put out a spot fire as strong winds carry a wildfire into Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Ventura policemen leave a neighborhood after checking a home as strong winds carry a wildfire into Ventura, California, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Firefighters battle flames from a Santa Ana wind-driven brush fire called the Thomas Fire in Santa Paula, California, December 4, 2017. Photo taken December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Tammy Hanna breaks into tears as she is hugged by husband Antoine as they are relieved their home was saved by Firefighters along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. 'We chased the fire from Santa Paula all the way into Ventura through the night,' Cohen said. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Wearing his Christmas garb Justin Ekback watches as Firefighters fight to save multi-million dollar homes along Cobblestone Drive near Foothill Road and North Victoria Avenue Tuesday midday after a fast-moving, wind-fueled wildfire swept into Ventura destroying many homes early Tuesday, burning over 45,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing 27,000 people to evacuate. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SHADOW HILLS, CA DECEMBER 05, 2017 -- Judy Hofmann-Sanders can only watch as her home is consumed by the Creek fire along McBroom Street in Shadow Hills. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Local residents pass by a burning house during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California, on December 5, 2017. Firefighters battled a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California that has left at least one person dead, destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents Aaron Cohen hugs Tammy Hanna during the Thomas wildfire in Ventura, California on December 5, 2017. Firefighters battled a wind-whipped brush fire in southern California that has left at least one person dead, destroyed more than 150 homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands to flee. / AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
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"The risk of large wildfires in coastal California typically peaks in Autumn after the long dry summers — typical of California’s Mediterranean climate — increase the flammability of the vegetation that fuels wildfires," LeRoy Westerling, a scientist researching climate and wildfire at the University of California at Merced, said in an email.

"The overlap between the dry fuels and these warm dry wind events marks the peak fire risk for the year in coastal California," Westerling said. "Usually, Autumn rains put an end to the fire season by wetting fuels and raising humidity, even though wind events may continue to occur."

The problem is, Westerling noted, it hasn't rained much in Southern California since March. The state also had its hottest summer on record, which dried out the vegetation that grew after one of its wettest winters, forming a perfect weather whiplash combo that is conducive to igniting large fires.

"Southern California has remained unusually dry through November and into December this year, extending the high fire risk fueled by the confluence of dry conditions and Autumn winds that are driving the large fires burning in coastal Southern California," Westerling said.

While these fires cannot be directly tied to climate change, since they were most likely ignited by downed power lines or arson, they are consistent with what scientists expect to occur more frequently from a warming, drying climate in much of California. 

The entire American West, in fact, is likely to see — and in many cases has already seen — an increase in the size and frequency of large wildfires. 

"Climate change is increasing the variability of precipitation as well as increasing temperatures," Westerling said. "This means that the probability of extremely large wind-driven fires in California occurring later in the year is increasing." 

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