Fierce CA Winds Fan Fires, Topple Trees and Trucks

Wind-fanned wildfire
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2020, file photo The CZU August Lightning Complex fire consumes trees and a fence along Empire Grade Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains community of Bonny Doon near Santa Cruz, Calif. Months-old embers from a deadly California fire were blown back to life Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, by powerful winds that raked the state and prompted safety blackouts to tens of thousands of people. The state's firefighting agency says Tuesday it has responded to at least a dozen vegetation fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in 12 hours. (Shmuel Thler/The Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP, File)

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — Powerful winds raking California on Tuesday reignited small fires in a forested area where a massive wildfire burned south of San Francisco last summer, authorities said.

Trees and trucks were toppled up and down the state, Yosemite National Park was forced to close, two coronavirus vaccination centers were shut down, and firefighters also chased wind-driven blazes in Los Angeles County.

South of San Francisco, the state’s firefighting agency said it responded to 13 vegetation fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in 12 hours, and isolated evacuations were ordered for a total of 120 homes near two of them.

The fires ranged in size from 5 to 14 acres (2-5.6 hectares) by midday and two were within the area burned by last year’s CZU Lightning Complex inferno.

“Fires within the (hashtag)CZULightningComplex burn area were regenerated by high winds,” the local unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection tweeted.

The CZU Complex started Aug. 16, 2020, during a barrage of lightning strikes. Separate fires merged, torching 1,500 buildings across 135 square miles (350 square kilometers) in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. One person died.

The Santa Cruz Mountains have a thick layer of “duff,” dead vegetation under heavy timber in which deep smoldering embers can be revived by the wind, said Cecile Juliette, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.

Cal Fire received nonstop reports of toppled trees and branches during the windstorm, Juliette said.

Winds Tuesday also hit other parts of the state, where some residents were blacked out by utilities to prevent downed or damaged power lines from sparking blazes.

Most of California is experiencing drought conditions and the remainder is considered abnormally dry. Winter snowfall and rain have largely been woeful.

Gusts howled at speeds up to 95 mph (152.8 kph) in the Mayacamas Mountains to the north of San Francisco Bay, and winds raised clouds of ash and dust from wildfire burn scars across Monterey County, the regional National Weather Service office said.

High wind warnings were posted in the Sierra Nevada and adjacent foothills.

“People should avoid being outside in forested areas and around trees and branches,” the Hanford weather office wrote. “If possible, remain in the lower levels of your home during the windstorm, and avoid windows. Use caution if you must drive.”

In Southern California, the region’s notorious Santa Ana winds were ramping up, making travel hazardous for big rigs. Some were blown over. One gust hit 86 mph (138.4 kph) in northern Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said.

The wind forced closure of a mass COVID-19 vaccination site at Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley. Another site at Disneyland was closed in advance of the gusts.

The city of Los Angeles instituted its program of restricting parking in hilly neighborhoods where narrow, winding streets can be difficult for fire engines to maneuver.

Downtown Los Angeles has had only 1.95 inches (4.95 centimeters) of rain since the Oct. 1 start of the “water year,” nearly 4 inches (10.16 centimeters) below normal. 

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