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Santa Ana Winds Put Southland on Fire Watch

Cities across Los Angeles County declare state of emergencies as winds are expected to pick up later in the week.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) More than 365,000 customers were without electricity in the Southland today and thousands of students were kept home from schools, as offshore winds gusting as high as near 100 miles per hour overnight knocked down trees, utility poles and power lines and raised fears of wildfire.   

Schools in the Glendora Unified School District, Citrus College and St. Lucy’s Priory remained closed on Thursday. Schools in the following public school districts -- Alhambra, Arcadia, Azusa, Duarte, La Canada, Monrovia, San Gabriel, San Marino, South Pasadena and Temple City -- were also closed today, though the Los Angeles Unified School District reported that all its schools stayed open.Glendora City Hall offices were also shut down Thursday due to power outages.

Several veteran Pasadena firefighters said it was the strongest windstorm they could recall in at least 30 years.  

In hard-hit Pasadena, a large ficus tree fell onto a Shell gas station at San Gabriel and Colorado boulevards overnight, but nobody was hit. A man who works at the business said he turned off the gas pumps and watered down the area because fire crews were too busy to immediately respond.

Cities across the Southland declared state of emergencies, including Glendora. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich also declared a countywide state of emergency.   

Southern California Edison, which serves Southland customers outside Los Angeles, reported at 1 p.m. that 226,053 of its customers were without power, with the hardest-hit areas including San Gabriel, Alhambra, Altadena, Arcadia, El Monte, La Canada Flintridge, Monrovia and Sierra Madre.   

About 4,000 Glendora customers were without power Thursday. Crews from both the DWP and SCE worked through the night to bring power back. The outages were believed to be affecting both residential and commercial customers.

Edison officials noted that the continuing winds were hampering efforts to restore power, and affected customers should be prepared to be without electricity al least into tomorrow.   

Winds gusting at 97 mph were recorded overnight in Whitaker Peak in the Los Angeles County portion of the San Gabriel Mountains, the weather service reported, adding that 67-mph gusts were monitored in Saugus while Malibu was wracked by gusts of around 50 mph.   

NWS meteorologists said the “very strong offshore wind event” affecting the region's mountain, forest, valley and coastal areas resulted from the alignment of two systems -- a cold low-pressure system that came down the Nevada-California state line to combine with a buildup of strong surface-high pressure in the Great Basin.  

That low-pressure system, however, began moving east into Arizona this afternoon, causing winds to shift to the northeast and weaken slightly. But forecasters said mountain areas -- particularly in the northern reaches of the Golden State (5) Freeway and the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway, as well as the Santa Clarita Valley, would still be prone to “potentially damaging wind gusts near 60 mph.”   

Peak winds around the rest of the county were expected to top out around 50 mph.   

The offshore flow will be weakening rapidly Friday afternoon, and winds were expected to diminish dramatically. But another round of high winds was expected later Saturday into Sunday.   

In the meantime, the risk of wildfire was considered so high that it prompted fire departments to take special precautions.   

In the city of Los Angeles, red flag parking restrictions were put into effect from 8 this morning until 8 a.m. Friday. The restrictions are intended to prevent parked cars on narrow streets from blocking emergency vehicles. To find out if you live in an area where parking is restricted, go to http://lafd.org/redflag/.   

Along with issuing the parking restrictions, the Los Angeles Fire Department also bolstered its staffing to ensure rapid response. The beefed-up deployment ordered by Fire Chief Brian Cummings includes 18 additional engine companies, six brush patrols, one battalion command team, one water tender and one bulldozer strike team, said department spokesman Brian Humphrey.   

Coinciding with fire-weather conditions, there was also an extra 911 dispatcher at the department's communications center working alongside each battalion chief, and an officer specially assigned to coordinate swift and effective air operations, Humphrey said.   

Los Angeles County, meanwhile, extended its contract for two firefighting SuperScooper aircraft for another week. The aircraft are leased from the government of Quebec in Canada, said Tony Bell of county Supervisor Mike Antonovich's office.   

The SuperScoopers can carry up to 1,620 gallons of water and take only 12 seconds to scoop up water from a lake and inject it with a fire-resistant foam -- a combination three times as effective as water alone, Bell said.   

The SuperScoopers can get airborne in as little as five minutes and fly three hours before they have to refuel.

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