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Fierce Winds Topple 40-Foot Tree, Power Lines in Santa Ana

Gusts cut power to 1,500 in one part of town and stir fears of out-of-control brush fire in Coto de Caza. But blaze is put out fast.

November 27, 2002|Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writer

Strong Santa Ana winds hammered Southern California again Tuesday, fanning brush fires, felling trees, downing power lines, tipping over trucks and stirring up a host of miseries for allergy sufferers.

The fires were brought under control, the damage from fallen trees and tree limbs was generally light, and power was restored in most areas by nightfall, but residents still faced a massive cleanup, and thousands of Southlanders were plagued by itchy eyes, sneezes and sniffles.

In Orange County, the winds knocked over a 40-foot tree and four power poles in Santa Ana.

They also ignited fears that a small brush fire near Coto de Caza would spread out of control, worries that proved to be unfounded.

"We put a lot of resources on it due to the wind conditions," said Capt. Steven Miller, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Authority. "It had great potential, but we were able to get ahead of it and get it under control pretty quickly."

The fire -- which 75 firefighters were able to contain in less than an hour -- burned only three acres in Riley Wilderness Park, although at one point it came within 20 yards of a house in Coto de Caza.

Its cause is under investigation, Miller said.

In Santa Ana, meanwhile, a 40-foot pine tree and several electric poles went down at 20th and Bush streets. Because of the 9:30 a.m. mishap, half the units in an apartment building had to be evacuated while crews from Southern California Edison worked to restore power to about 1,500 customers, a Santa Ana Fire Department spokeswoman said.

"We had to take the people out because the wires were down," she said.

No injuries or damage to the building were reported.

Throughout Southern California, clouds of dust and other particulate matter drifted across the Los Angeles Basin and out to sea, coating homes and cars with grime and contributing to a spectacular red sunset.

The National Weather Service said the winds, which gusted to more than 60 mph Monday and Tuesday, should ease a little today and on Thanksgiving. There is a chance of a few light showers Friday.

Tuesday's largest fire blackened about 10 acres and damaged a home in Monrovia.

A blaze of unknown origin in the dry Santa Ana River bed near Norco damaged two homes and scorched more than five acres of brush and grass, authorities said.

More than 20 big-rig trucks were blown over early Tuesday, at least a dozen of them on the heavily traveled Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass north of San Bernardino.

Hundreds of trees, tree limbs, palm fronds and small signs also fell during the night, littering streets and yards as well as knocking down power lines and causing widespread outages.

John Quigley, the 42-year-old Pacific Palisades resident who has been roosting in a 400-year-old Santa Clarita Valley oak to protest a developer's plans to remove the tree, had a rough ride but weathered it.

Quigley lashed himself to a branch to keep from being launched into the night, and although the limb swayed several feet, he held fast.

He didn't get much sleep, though.

"There were a couple of times that I said some prayers," he said by cell phone Tuesday afternoon. "It was pretty intense up there."

Advisories warning of unhealthy levels of fine particles in the air were issued Tuesday for the San Fernando, San Gabriel, Pomona/Walnut and Santa Clarita valleys and parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Similar advisories are expected today and Thursday.

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Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.

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