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High Winds Bully Trees, Trucks, Raise Fire Fears

Southland officials report no serious accidents or injuries. More gusts, some as high as 70 mph, are expected through tonight.

November 26, 2002|David Haldane and Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

Blustery Santa Ana winds whipped across Southern California on Monday, yanking down power lines, flipping trees and big rigs and momentarily reaching hurricane speeds at spots in the San Fernando Valley.

Forecasters warned that the hair-dryer effect, which has fire officials on high alert, would continue through tonight.

"Mother Nature mugged us today," said Steve Conroy, a spokesman for Southern California Edison. More than 40,000 homes lost power at some point Monday, and the utility had crews working through the night to restore service.

Winds briefly hit speeds of 77 mph in the Verdugo Hills north of Glendale and 78 mph in the Angeles National Forest on Monday night, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service.

But to emergency workers' relief, no major fires, accidents or injuries were reported.

A family in San Clemente escaped injury when the wind shoved a 75- to 100-foot eucalyptus tree into their home.

"It came through the back window and the whole ceiling came in," said Mary Lynn Lippert, who lives in the condominium on Calle del Comercio with her husband and two teenage daughters. "A big portion of the trunk is in the bedroom." The tree caused serious damage to the building, but no one was injured.

In La Crescenta, a house was gutted after a downed power line sparked a blaze.

"We were very concerned for a while because of the erratic winds and the potential of a larger fire," said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Edward Osario. But the home in the 3000 block of Gertrude Avenue was unoccupied, and firefighters extinguished the blaze within an hour.

In Hancock Park, the wind uprooted a tree at 2:15 p.m. and tossed it onto a pickup truck, taking power lines with it as it fell, officials said. The driver wasn't injured.

At the same time in Ontario, a gust of wind overturned a big rig, which blocked traffic on Jarupa Street for nearly an hour. Another big rig jackknifed on the southbound Orange Freeway in Fullerton. Elsewhere in Orange County, several trees were toppled, blocking roads.

Weather officials said the winds were caused by interaction between a high pressure area over the Great Basin in Nevada and a low pressure area over the deserts of southeastern California.

The gusts also sucked the moisture from the air, sending humidity levels diving throughout the region. Officials said there was a 20% chance of rain Friday.

In Northern California, the wind stoked wildfires in the Sierra Nevada at a time when many agencies had cut back on firefighters because they thought the danger was past.

Eldorado National Forest had laid off 60 seasonal firefighters and was struggling to man its equipment to fight about 15 fires, the largest at 1,000 acres, said spokesman Frank Mosbacher. In the Tahoe National Forest, firefighters battled a number of blazes totaling about 250 acres. In Calveras County, six separate areas were burning.

"After seven to 10 inches of rain, we thought we had safe conditions," said Tim Feller, company district manager of Sierra Pacific Industries Inc.

But winds as high as 70 mph ignited fires, including the thousand-acre Plum Fire two miles south of Riverton, south of California 50.

"This stuff is just wicked," Feller said.


Times staff writer Jessica Garrison and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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