Residents allowed home after winds fan wildfire

LOS ANGELES - Residents up and down the California coast were reeling after a day of pounding winds left streets littered with trees, knocked out power to thousands, and whipped up waves and wildfires.

The blustery storm system left the state by early Tuesday, taking with it wind gusts that topped 80 mph in some areas in Southern California. The calmer weather, accompanied by cooler night temperatures and higher humidity, helped firefighters at a wind-whipped wildfire in Fillmore about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Enough progress had been made at the blaze, which destroyed two homes on Monday and threatened about 160 others, that officials lifted all evacuation orders by early Tuesday, Ventura County fire Capt. Mike Lindbery said.

Shawn Decaro, whose relatives lived in one of the destroyed homes, said the fire moved into the city so quickly that he barely had time to help them evacuate.

 
   "It was just enough time to get them out," Decaro told KCAL-TV. "The palm trees in the front yard were catching fire. Everything around us was catching fire."
 
   The rest of the state contended with widespread outages as gusts downed power lines and trees. Wind sent a tree smashing into a Sacramento home where four friends were playing cards, but they didn't stop the game, according to KCRA-TV.
 
   "It could've been worse," said Dodie Backus, who lives in the house.
 
   "It's not going to stop our bridge game," said her game partner, Marilyn Baker.
 
   Northern California was first to feel the lashing gusts, which spread to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. At least a dozen trees came down in San Francisco, police officer John Tozzini told KGO-TV, and a wide swath of outages occurred from the Bay Area through Sacramento.
 
   Air quality alerts were issued for northern Santa Barbara County and adjacent southern San Luis Obispo County because of blowing dust and sand. State Route 14 was closed as blowing dust swept the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles, decreasing visibility for drivers.
 
   Officer Michael Farrell said motorists who stopped were hit from behind by other cars, but no major injuries were reported.
 
   In Southern California, more than 20,000 customers throughout the region lost electricity as winds knocked down power lines or sent tree branches into them.
 
   However, only around 1,000 customers were still without electricity early Tuesday.
 
   Wind-felled trees in streets made it difficult for firefighters in Fillmore to get near homes to protect them. That blaze burned about 170 acres, county fire spokesman Tom Kruschke said.
 
   Whitecaps flecked the Pacific Ocean along the California coast, where gale warnings and small craft advisories were posted. Recreational boaters were warned to stay in port.
 
   Wind-driven swells slapped over the tops of breakwaters and turned waves into a churning froth under piers at points such as Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach on the Los Angeles County coast.
 
   The blustery system was being fueled by a cold front, which Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., said was "just a cold, really strong upper low" pressure system.
 
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