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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Firefighters battled small brush fires in California on Tuesday as a high-pressure system brought unseasonable heat and gusty winds to a parched state already scarred by blazes during what should have been the rainy season.
The biggest fire broke out at late morning in the Del Dio area of San Diego County and rapidly was blown westward through an undeveloped corridor of land among modern suburbs. Aircraft made water and retardant drops on the blaze, which covered 15 acres at midday.
A half-dozen other blazes had occurred statewide but all remained small, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Record high temperatures were likely through midweek from Southern California north to the regions around Monterey and San Francisco bays, the National Weather Service said. Downtown Los Angeles was 92 degrees at noon, 18 degrees above normal.
With the combination of high heat, low relative humidity and the region's notoriously gusty Santa Ana winds, Los Angeles and neighboring cities activated parking restrictions in certain areas to make sure emergency vehicles could get through if fires erupted in dry brush.
Months of drought have left much of the landscape ready to burn. Downtown Los Angeles has recorded just 6.08 inches of precipitation with little time left in the July 1-June 30 rain year. That's less than half its annual average rainfall.
"Fire season last year never really ended in Southern California," said Berlant. His agency has responded to more than 1,350 fires since Jan. 1, compared to an average of 700 by this time of year.
Because of that, staffing has remained high. Still, additional fire engines were moved from other parts of the state to Southern California due to the forecast of the Santa Anas, which have fanned some of the region's worst wildfires.
"The drought this year has set the stage for a potentially very busy fire season, and a particularly dangerous one as conditions dry out even further," Berlant said.
Santa Ana winds form when high pressure over the interior of the West causes air to flow toward Southern California, speeding up and warming as it descends through the mountain passes and canyons.
High pressure Tuesday kept virtually the entire state clear.
On the often-foggy central California coast, skies were clear and sunny, but an ocean breeze kept temperatures reasonable.
Diners watched sea lions in the Santa Cruz Harbor from the deck of Aldo's Harbor Restaurant, where manager Alfredo Servin said great weather always brings customers.
"People like sitting outside, so when it gets nice like this, we get busy," he said.
Servin said tourists outnumber locals when heat waves hit inland.
"Obviously when it gets hot, they want to escape," he said. "We've got people from all over today."
Ken Stagnaro, who captains Santa Cruz Whale Watching boats, said water in the Monterey Bay is about 56 degrees, comfortably cold for the humpback, gray and blue whales he's been seeing over the past few days.
He said that although it's hot everywhere, temperatures drop about 10 degrees once they get out into the bay.
"With the weather like this, it's going to be really packed with people wanting to get out and cool off," he said.