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The sun was beginning to set on Halloween when a small fire began to glow on a hillside near Santa Paula. Within seconds — fanned by the most potent Santa Ana winds of the season — the blaze roared to life with immense speed, chewing through thousands of acres of bone-dry brush and eventually consuming homes.

Devastating fire weather that ushered in a flurry of blazes across the state last month helped the Maria fire, which charred nearly 10,000 acres in four days, earn the title of this year’s largest Southern California wildfire. However, experts caution the blaze may be a preview of what could be a long season of devastating fires amid gusty winds and dry conditions.

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