CA Wind Downs Trees, Spreads Fires

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Fierce Santa Ana wind whipped across Southern California with gusts up to 79 mph early Monday, snapping trees, overturning trucks and driving fires across Malibu hillsides.

One death was blamed on the wind.

The wind started blowing late Sunday and by Monday morning more than 100,000 customers were without electricity after more than 150 utility poles were blown down, utilities said.

The hot, dry Santa Ana weather was expected to continue through midday Tuesday and high wind warnings were posted throughout the region.

A mile of street in Arcadia, east of Los Angeles, was closed because 29 utility poles were blown down.

``There was something of a domino effect that took place,'' fire spokesman Beth Stogner said.

One power line landed on a home in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles, starting a fire that destroyed the house and three cars, said Fire Capt. Al Higginbotham.

In Malibu, the gusty wind fanned two small fires in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean, forcing residents to flee about 30 homes until the flames were contained early Monday, officials said.

About 350 firefighters were sent to battle the fires, which totaled about 15 acres. No building damage or injuries were reported, and the cause of the fires remained under investigation.

``I could not believe how the wind was blowing up here. I could not even stand on my own two feet,'' said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Mike Brown. ``It was very unbearable at times, especially with the smoke and the fire and the embers blowing in your eyes. It made it very difficult.''

In addition to the wind, the area is in a winter heat wave with record highs on Sunday of 85 at Burbank, 76 at Santa Barbara and 82 in Escondido. In Northern California, Santa Rosa warmed to a record high of 70.

Since Jan. 1, the National Weather Service has had a ``fire weather forecast'' in effect for Southern California. ``It's dangerous out there,'' said meteorologist Bill Hoffer.

The wind overturned tractor-trailer rigs on a freeway in Ontario. Wind-flung debris smashed through a car windshield and killed a man on a freeway in Riverside, said California Highway Patrol Officer Sean Cooper.