California winds easing after sparking fires, power outages

A windstorm that fanned brushfires, toppled trees and left thousands of Californians without power is finally easing out of the south and some rain may be on the way

LOS ANGELES -- A windstorm that fanned brushfires, toppled trees and left thousands of Californians without power focused its remaining energy Wednesday on the southern end of the state, where forecasters warned of the additional threat of heavy rain and flash flooding.

Strong winds that began Tuesday night reached 50 mph in many areas. Hurricane-force gusts of around 85 mph hit a mountain area in San Diego County and came with about a half-inch of rain in some locations.

The winds were tapering off by sunset in many areas although high-wind warnings remained in place until 10 p.m. in San Bernardino and Riverside counties and inland areas of Orange County.

In addition, a low-pressure system moving across northern Baja California was expected to draw subtropical moisture into the region during the night, the National Weather Service said.

Flash-flood watches were posted for the eastern and southern mountains and deserts and snow was expected at elevations of 5,500 feet (1,676 meters) and higher.

Utilities, meanwhile, were dealing with power outages resulting from a combination of wind damage and public safety power shutoffs intended to prevent sparks from downed or damaged equipment rom starting fires.

Southern California Edison’s website showed around 15,000 of its 5 million customers remained intentionally blacked out early Wednesday.

Pacific Gas & Electric intentionally shut power to around 5,000 customers in the northern and central areas of the state before winds there eased Tuesday. The utility was busy restoring power to around 286,000 customers who lost power due to severe weather and the majority already had their electricity restored.

Power lines must be inspected for signs of damage and repaired before they can be reenergized. PG&E said preliminary reports showed 125 power poles and 125 transformers had been damaged.

The powerful winds howled into Northern California late Monday and moved southward Tuesday under the influence of low-pressure systems.

Trees fell, branches flew and big rigs toppled over on highways. The danger and damage from falling trees prompted Yosemite National Park to close until Friday morning.

Wildfires occurred statewide, including two from gusts fanning long-smoldering embers from one of last summer’s massive wildfires in counties south of the San Francisco Bay region. Firefighters on alert due to the predicted conditions kept the fires small.

The weather has been cooling since last week, when some areas had unseasonable highs in the 90s. Two incoming low-pressure systems were expected to bring even cooler temperatures beginning Thursday night through Saturday and again early next week. Areas of Southern California could see highs 20 to 40 degrees below last week's highs along with chances of rain ranging from a quarter-inch heading into the weekend to a half-inch by Monday and even an inch in some mountains, according to the National Weather Service.