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56 Homeless in Fires; Tree Crushes Girl in Yosemite : Winds Hit 70 M.P.H. in Southland

February 19, 1988|GEORGE RAMOS | Times Staff Writer

Dry desert winds clocked as high as 70 m.p.h. raked much of Central and Southern California overnight, toppling a tree that killed a girl in Yosemite National Park, fanning at least three fires that left 56 persons homeless and forcing the closure of one school district because of several damaged buildings.

Six persons, including one firefighter, suffered minor injuries in one wind-fueled blaze in North Hollywood. And the Santa Ana winds were so ferocious near the Mexican border early this morning that the California Highway Patrol closed Interstate 8 for a time at Monument Peak, near the eastern San Diego County community of Alpine.

Lot of Dirt Blowing

The gusts in other areas just kicked up a lot of dirt, making driving hazardous.

"There's a lot of real estate changing hands out here," said sheriff's Lt. Jerry Mitchell at the Antelope Valley substation.

The National Weather Service issued wind advisories for continued gusts in local waters and in the desert and mountain passes. But the winds should diminish by Saturday morning, the forecasters said.

Several hundred campers were evacuated from Yosemite National Park late Thursday as 60-m.p.h. winds knocked down trees, park spokeswoman Mallory Smith said.

Crushed by Tree

Jasmine Bitts, 9, of Garden Grove was crushed to death when one falling tree crashed through the cabin in which she was staying with her mother and a companion. Her mother, Nancy Earle of Garden Grove, and Charles Ross, 36, of Carpinteria, suffered minor injuries in the accident.

In greater Los Angeles, the winds touched off at least three fires that caused about $1.4 million worth of damage.

Seven people were slightly injured when an unfinished apartment building at 11337 Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood caught fire shortly after midnight. The winds carried hot embers to a nearby 10-unit apartment complex and four other dwellings, Los Angeles city fire officials said.

Burned Out of Homes

Red Cross spokesman Ralph Wright said 24 persons, including 11 children, were burned out of their homes. The cause of the fire, which left $345,000 in damage, was under investigation.

Power lines knocked down by the high winds ignited a blaze early this morning in the Eastside community of Commerce where a roofing company was destroyed and three homes were heavily damaged, including that of a Red Cross volunteer.

Los Angeles County fire officials said the windblown wires touched off a blaze at Robinson Roofing Co. at 1324 Eastman Ave. The flames, fanned by the dry gusts, ignited two propane tanks in back of the home of Red Cross volunteer Keith Garcia, 25.

23 Left Homeless

He was one of 23 persons left homeless by the $500,000 blaze, which was controlled in an hour.

"I've been through this several times (as a volunteer)," Garcia said, surveying his damaged home. "But I never thought this would happen to me."

A third fire, apparently started by an electrical short, left nine persons homeless and caused $65,000 in damage to a duplex in the Mount Washington area.

Two other fires, one in Glendale and the other in Pasadena, also kept firefighters contending with the high winds. The blaze in Pasadena damaged a home at 1235 Hillcrest Ave. but no one was injured. Authorities said both fires were started by electrical surges caused by the stiff winds.

Fontana Schools Closed

Wind-caused damage forced the closure today of the 20,000-student Fontana Unified School District in San Bernardino County. Supt. Anthony Lardieri decided to cancel classes after surveying damage to several buildings at Fontana High. The language arts building suffered the most damage when a large part of its roof caved in.

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