From TIME's Archive: The Great California Fires

Fierce winds and years of drought put the torch to hundreds of square miles in California and displace nearly a million people. How we got here and what — if anything — we can do

Rick Bowmer / AP

Firefighters watch a backfire on a hillside in Jamul, Calif., Tuesday, October 23, 2007.

Correction Appended: October 25, 2007

The Santa Ana winds begin cold, gathering power and mass in the high desert between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Air pressure pushes the winds up and over the San Gabriel Mountains, westward toward the Pacific Ocean, until gravity takes hold. The air becomes compressed as it drops, growing hotter and dryer, stripping moisture from the ground, accelerating — sometimes past 100 m.p.h. (160 km/h) — as it squeezes through Southern California's many canyons.

The punishing gusts of the Santa Anas herald cursed weather, days and nights of...

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