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Winds Down Power Lines and Fan Small Brush Fires

Thousands lose their electricity across the L.A. Basin. Three homes are damaged amid five blazes, which are controlled.

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 job, and thousands of Southlanders were plagued by itchy eyes, sneezes and sniffles.

Wind-tossed clouds of dust and other particulate matter drifted across the Los Angeles Basin and out to sea, coating homes and cars with gritty grime in many areas 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 continue, though easing a little today and Thanksgiving, with a chance of a few light showers Friday.

Saturday and Sunday are expected to be clear and a little cooler, with overnight lows dipping into the 30s in parts of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

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

It took about 150 firefighters, three helicopters and two SuperScooper planes 90 minutes or so to put out the wind-whipped blaze, which broke out about 9:30 a.m. among heavy brush in the foothills near Cloverleaf Drive.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

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.

Flames driven by high winds burned about five acres of brush near Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley. That fire, which started about 4 a.m., burned for three hours before 125 city and county firefighters brought it under control.

The cause was not determined.

About the same time, downed power lines started a small grass fire that was quickly extinguished near the Golden State Freeway and Roxford Street in Sylmar.

Several hours later, a brush fire burned about three acres and briefly threatened several homes in Coto de Caza in south Orange County.

More than 20 big rigs 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 fell during the night, littering streets and yards throughout the Los Angeles Basin.

Several of the toppling trees knocked down power lines, causing widespread outages that disrupted traffic signals in scattered areas across Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said about 15,000 customers in the city had been without electricity at various times early Tuesday.

Southern California Edison officials said the power failures had affected about 6,000 of its customers, most of them in the San Gabriel Valley.

Power was restored in most areas by sundown Tuesday.

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 he 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 recalled in a cell phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. "It was pretty intense up there."

The gusty, northeast winds are the byproduct of two large masses of high atmospheric pressure in the Pacific Northwest. Circulating clockwise around these highs, the winds dry out by compression as they sweep down Southern California canyons to the sea, scattering dust, pollen and ashes that trouble allergy sufferers, asthmatics and others with respiratory problems.

Dust 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.

"Because of so little rain, the pollen is just sitting on the ground," said Dr. Jacob Offenberger, an allergist in the San Fernando Valley. "The wind stirs it up, people breathe it and those with allergies and asthma can have a lot of trouble."

Offenberger said blowing soot, ashes and dust are causing respiratory difficulties in communities below areas burned in recent brush fires.

"There, it's a problem of irritation more than allergies," he said. "And the low humidity can be an irritant too."

Offenberger said people who find their normal respiratory medications inadequate should consult their physicians.


Times staff writer Carol Chambers contributed to this report.

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