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Orange County

High Winds Bring Road Hazards

Gusts up to 70 mph create O.C. freeway headaches, knocking down a directional sign and a tree and fanning a roadside brush fire.

March 29, 2003|Mai Tran and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

Trees, power lines and a freeway sign toppled in Southern California on Friday in a continuing onslaught of gale-force winds that is not expected to end until tonight.

Gusts peaking at 70 mph, just short of the hurricane-force level of 74 mph, scattered debris across roadways before noon Friday, slowing the morning commute. Trash and small tree limbs piled up against fences, hedges and buildings, but there were no reports of major damage.

The winds, which began Thursday, abated somewhat Friday afternoon, but they were expected to intensify again early this morning before the high-pressure weather system that created them moves east.

In Orange County, a large directional sign tore from its post and crashed onto the Costa Mesa Freeway just south of its junction with the Santa Ana Freeway in Tustin about 10 a.m. The sign didn't hit any vehicles, but it sprawled across three northbound traffic lanes, closing all of them. A crane was brought to remove the sign, and the lanes reopened in midafternoon.

In Tustin, a gust uprooted a large tree that fell onto the Garden Grove Freeway just east of Brookhurst Street in Garden Grove about 11 a.m., blocking two westbound lanes. No vehicles were damaged, but Caltrans crews worked for about two hours to clean up the mess.

The winds interrupted power to about 19,000 Southern California Edison customers in Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, but service was restored in most areas within a couple of hours. Lights flickered in a few Orange County cities, but Los Angeles County was largely spared, with only about 120 Department of Water and Power customers reporting outages.

"That's about what we get on a normal day," said Gale Harris, a DWP spokeswoman.

Gusts fanned the flames of two small brush fires Friday, and firefighters extinguished each in less than an hour.

The first blaze, which broke out shortly after 3 a.m., blackened less than an acre of brush beside the Riverside Freeway in Anaheim. The second, which started shortly after noon beside the Ventura Freeway in Calabasas, scorched some grass beside an offramp.

The winds are heating up by compression as they sweep down canyons, and temperatures are well above normal for this time of year. Friday's high in downtown Los Angeles was 79 degrees, about eight degrees above normal, with top readings in the upper 80s forecast for today and Sunday. Highs in the mid-90s are expected through the weekend in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Forecasters said a cooling trend should begin Monday, with temperatures near normal by midweek. The National Weather Service said there's a chance of rain next week.

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