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Winds Down Trees, Poles, Disrupt Power

December 14, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN and JIM CARLTON | Times Staff Writers

Arctic winds tore through Southern California over the weekend Tch sticks, fanning fires cking out electricity to thousands of homes, littering streets with tons of debris and raising concerns shelter for the homeless.

In Orange County, winds clocked at 50 m.p.h. uprooted large trees, knocked out power to nearly 60,000 homes and businesses and fanned the flames of at least a half-dozen fires, some started by stray chimney embers. In a few cases, sparks leapfrogged to dry rooftops of nearby homes but were contained by firefighters.

No serious injuries were reported in any of the wind-related destruction throughout Southern California. Winds were clocked at up to 60 m.p.h. in several areas, with gusts of up to 80 m.p.h. reported in parts of the San Bernardino Valley.

However, as the windstorm began to subside Sunday evening, the National Weather Service predicted subfreezing temperatures. The forecast for temperatures in the 20s in sheltered inland valley areas sent area farmers scurrying to protect vulnerable strawberry crops, some of which already had been damaged by the fierce winds and near freezing of the previous night.

"If it doesn't get too cold, we'll come out with some ugly fruit, but at least it will be something," Don F. Wall, owner of Strawberry Farms in Irvine, said Sunday afternoon. "If it . . . (freezes) tonight, there will be a lot of damage."

Hardest hit was the San Bernardino County city of Rancho Cucamonga, where winds exceeding 60 m.p.h. blew down 80 power poles along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Baseline Road, officials said. At least two of those poles fell on cars, but no injuries were reported, a sheriff's official said Sunday.

"They came down just like dominoes," city maintenance supervisor Bob Zetterberg said of the fallen power poles. "It looks like a war zone out here."

Carol Bowman, co-manager of the Alta Vista Mobile Home Community, estimated that 80% of the 186 homes in the park were damaged. And, like many areas of the city, the park lost power.

"It's cold here," Bowman said. "We are a family park, and there is no heat for the babies and no cooking."

Bowman said a Southern California Edison Co. spokesman has said it could be two days before the power is restored.

In Orange County, the howling winds and frigid temperatures sent homeless scurrying to shelters.

All Available Beds Filled

At the Orange County Rescue Mission in Santa Ana, all available beds were filled Sunday night, forcing attendants to turn away several men. "We usually have 15 or 20 people stay here at night, but tonight we had almost 30 people," mission attendant Rich Hartsock said. "They're going to be sleeping out on the streets," he said.

Those sent away were given solar blankets, Hartsock said, which are made from reflectorized cloth that helps retain body heat and resist moisture and cold.

Los Angeles' homeless also were forced to weather more cold than usual. The city invoked a Stage 1 alert for the homeless Sunday because it was predicted temperatures would fall to about 40 degrees overnight. Such alerts, which are triggered automatically when temperatures dip to below 40 degrees in clear weather and 50 degrees in rain, call for housing vouchers to be distributed to the homeless.

This is the sixth time that the alert has been called this winter.

The National Weather Service forecast called for a return of warmer temperatures by tonight, with overnight lows in the 40s to near 50. But forecasters said rain will threaten the Southland by midweek, when a new Pacific storm is expected to reach the California coast.

Orange County Damage

In Orange County, the heaviest damage was caused by a series of wind-whipped fires that gutted a six-store mini-mall, left two families homeless and sent firefighters scurrying from blaze to blaze.

"The hardest thing to fight is the wind," county Fire Department dispatcher Mike Knutson said. "The wind pushes the fire and adds oxygen to the fire and makes it burn at a much faster rate. Along with that, it picks up the embers and carries (them) to other residences."

Firefighters were particularly concerned with a 12:22 p.m. blaze Sunday in a house in the 18600 block of Woodwind Lane in an unincorporated section of Anaheim. Embers from a fire apparently started by chimney sparks in the house threatened to spread to the wood-shingle rooftops of other neighborhood homes.

To protect themselves, residents stood atop their rooftops and kept them wet with garden hoses as 56 firemen fought the blaze, which gutted the single-story residence and routed the family. As a precaution, the Fire Department deployed a five-engine strike team to patrol the surrounding area in search of any stray burning embers. None were found.

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