Powerful Wind Hits So. California, Spreading Fires

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Wind gusted to 50 mph across California for a second day Tuesday, spreading dozens of fires in the Sierra Nevada and causing power outages from San Francisco to San Diego.

The wind began to ease in some places by evening, but the National Weather Service said southwest California would be affected by strong gusts through Thursday.

At least one home was damaged by the wind-stoked fires. Hospitals had to use backup generators in some areas.

Thousands of people woke up without electricity Tuesday in Los Angeles, Oakland and the San Diego area, and darkened traffic signals and wind-blown debris challenged commuters.

``It was blowing like a railroad train at three this morning,'' said Steve Miller, 51, of the San Fernando Valley.

On Monday, wind overturned tractor-trailer rigs on freeways, but no injuries were reported.

In Hollywood, the wind collapsed a 25-foot-long tent at a Christmas tree lot, while in West Hollywood a large billboard toppled onto a flower shop along the Sunset Strip.

The wind, called the Santa Ana in Southern California, knocked out power to as many as 165,000 customers in and around Los Angeles Monday and Tuesday. Several thousand remained without power Tuesday evening.

The wind almost persuaded John Quigley to leave his perch in a 400-year-old oak tree in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita, where he has been living for nearly a month to protest plans to cut it down.

``Let's just say I said a few prayers,'' Quigley said from his seat in the branches.

Quigley said three safety lines and a climbing harness kept him secure as the tree shook. ``Think being on a ship in the middle of the sea,'' he said.

Flights out of Los Angeles International Airport were not affected, said spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

The wind fanned a 10-acre fire that damaged one home in Monrovia, east of Los Angeles. A 5-acre brush fire driven by 30 mph gusts in northern Los Angeles was contained before it reached homes in the community of Shadow Hills. In La Crescenta, where gusts reached 70 mph, a tree limb struck a power line, sparking a fire that damaged three homes.

In the Sierra Nevada in northern California, the wind hampered the fight against 22 fires that spread from logging debris piles set ablaze more than two weeks ago. Two fires had blackened about 300 acres each, and one near Riverton had burned across more than 500 acres.

Weather forecasters said the wind blowing across the region toward the sea was caused by air flowing from a strong high pressure area over the Great Basin toward low pressure off the coast.

The weather service clocked gusts at 77 mph Monday on the east side of the Verdugo Mountains, just north of Glendale. In Burbank, a gust was recorded at 53 mph.

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