Fierce winds barreled across the Southland today, knocking out power to thousands of homes, toppling trucks, and triggering travel warnings below canyons and passes, and small craft warnings along the coast.
Hardest hit were San Bernardino and Riverside counties, where erratic gusts darkened traffic signals and sent huge dust clouds spiraling skyward.
Traffic on California 60 and the Riverside Freeway slowed to a crawl when visibility shrank to a few yards. Along Interstate 15, north of Fontana, 60-m.p.h. gusts overturned semi-trailer trucks, but there were no serious injuries, according to a California Highway Patrol spokesman.
Across the two counties, winds uprooted trees and tossed aside sections of chain link fencing. Near Van Buren Boulevard in Riverside, the winds bent a horizontal railroad crossing gate more than 90 degrees and snapped two steel girders that had held aloft a huge wooden sign advertising a housing development.
In Orange County, at least three fires fanned by strong winds kept firefighters busy. One retail store was destroyed and four others suffered major damage in a fire in the city of Orange that took 50 firefighters two hours to contain.
More than 4,600 homes were without power in the El Toro area after 40-m.p.h. winds sent a palm tree frond into an electrical line Monday night. Other outages occurred in Santa Ana, Orange and Garden Grove.
In the San Fernando Valley, about 1,500 homes were without power for short periods in North Hollywood, Sylmar, Sunland-Tujunga and Granada Hills.
In the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles, a fast-moving brush fire, fanned by 40-m.p.h. winds, threatened about 50 homes near Placerita Canyon State Park in the Newhall area.
The fire broke out shortly after 9 a.m. at Placerita Canyon and Running Horse roads. By noon, more than 80 acres of dry chaparral brushland had been blackened, Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Art Contessotto said.
More than 100 county firefighters battling the blaze were hampered by strong winds from the northeast, which pushed the flames toward the county-run Placerita Canyon Nature Center and a nearby housing tract, Contessotto said.