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'Devil Winds' cause fires, power outages

Yes, Santa Ana winds and heat aren’t supposed to hit this time of the year.

But because of a massive pressure system in the desert, the winds swept through the basin and will continue to if meteorologists got their forecasts right.

“This is a pretty amazing event going on,” said Mark Moede, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego. “These are strong Santa Ana winds and this is the off season. It’s highly unusual.”

The hammering winds and high temperatures hit the basin for a second day Wednesday, sparking a 1,000-acre fire in Rancho Cucamonga, fanning dozens of smaller fires and causing scattered wind damage and jangling nerves.

The unusual weather caused a red-flag fire warning as well as a high-wind warning that will remain through Thursday evening, though winds should ease off a bit, the National Weather Service said.
Orange County’s Fremont Canyon recorded a gust of 94 mph at 10:51 a.m. Wednesday – strong enough to bend a metal pole, shatter glass doors and break windows, said Stefanie Sullivan, another meteorologist with the weather service.

A gust of 84 mph was recorded in the Chilao area in the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County around noon. A 75 mph blast barreled through Highland Springs in Riverside County. And at Ontario Airport a gust of 70 mph swept through mid-morning.

“This late in the ‘season,’ and this strong, is certainly unusual,” Sullivan said. “These are probably the strongest gusts I’ve seen in my six years here.”

Typically, Santa Ana winds blast through the region in the fall and winter.

High pressure over the Mojave Desert is driving the winds through the mountain passes and toward the ocean, and the blasts are even stronger due to a low pressure system hanging over the central U.S., Sullivan explained.

The worst impact was the brush fire burning in Day Creek near the Etiwanda Preserve in Rancho Cucamonga, which forced the evacuation of about 1,650 homes in two residential areas and several schools. No major damage was reported and the mandatory order was lifted during the evening.
“One thing in our favor is the rain last weekend. We don’t have the same explosive fire behavior that we did in 2003,” Rancho Cucamonga Fire Chief Mike Bell said, referring to the year the OId Fire burned in the same area.

In Orange County, a pine tree fell through the roof of an apartment in Garden Grove, two small brush fires broke out along the 241 and 261 toll roads, and power lines hit by wind-whipped debris killed electricity for about 4,300 Southern California Edison customers around noon.
Several cars on the 241 toll road in Orange County pulled over during the strongest winds in the morning; other motorists drove slowly.

Firefighter strike teams were deployed in high-risk fire areas. In all, O.C. crews responded to 26 fires, including seven brush fires, five structures, four trash, four tree tires, five bush blazes and one vault fire. Many were caused by downed power lines or trees falling into power lines, authorities said.
The furious winds drew surfers to the coast to enjoy the rare offshore conditions; some rescues were reported.

In Newport Beach, a pair of bodyboarders needed to be pulled to shore around noon after winds pushed them out into a rip current at 15th Street, lifeguard captain Jim Turner said.
In Laguna Beach, at around 10:30 a.m., a pair of stand-up paddlers got swept away by the wind and needed help from lifeguards to get back to shore.

At Santa Catalina’s Avalon Harbor, offshore winds blew up to 25 knots across the channel, keeping harbormaster Brian Bray busy securing moored boats in the harbor in the hopes of keeping them from breaking free of their lines.

“They have to organize everything, get everything off the pier, and put as many boats in the corner of the harbor near the casino as possible,” said Kate Olsen, administrative assistant for the Avalon Harbor Patrol.

In popular culture, the Santa Ana winds are known as “devil winds” that put people on edge.
“It’s very unsettling,” said Joanne Hubble, a Modjeska Canyon resident who works with various agencies to send information to canyon area residents about fires, accidents and other emergencies.
“When we experience a sudden spike in temperatures like we’ve seen this week, there’s no question we’ll see an increase in more acute psychiatric conditions among people with mood disorders,” said Richard Granese, a psychiatrist at Hoag Hospital. “And even if you don’t have a disorder, this kind of sudden change makes people uncomfortable and more irritable and aggressive. It’s palpable.”

Erik Priedkalns, 42, an estate planning attorney in Santa Monica, said: “I’m not sure if it’s the end of the world, but the usually high levels of car horn rage was even higher than usual.”

Contact the writer: Staff writers Sean Emery, Laylan Connelly, Scott Schwebke, Jenna Chandler, Peter Surowski and Taylor Hill contributed to this story.