- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 7 (UPI) — Southern California settled into a summer-like January hot spell Tuesday as the Santa Ana winds that knocked out power and fanned brush fires across the region began to slowly subside.

Sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70s were found throughout the greater Los Angeles and San Diego areas while the blustery desert winds that whipped up 70-mile-per-hour gusts on Monday fell to 25-45 mph.

Weather-related problems had not completely faded by Tuesday afternoon as repair crews worked to restore power in several neighborhoods, trucks were banned from Interstate 8 east of San Diego and a wildfire threatened some 250 homes in the upscale Malibu hills.

"We had expected the winds to die out during the night, but that wasn't the case," said Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Kurt Schaefer. "The winds were blowing embers upwards of a mile out and starting spot fires."

The fast-moving blaze ballooned to 2,200 acres overnight and was only 10-percent contained at noon as more than 1,000 firefighters from across the area waited for water-dropping helicopters to rejoin the battle.

Schaefer told United Press International evacuations had taken place at several of the 250 homes considered threatened in the Decker Canyon area north of the seaside Pacific Coast Highway. There were none that were seriously damaged.

A 45-year-old woman was reportedly arrested in Riverside County Tuesday for allegedly starting a brush fire that burned 150 acres and three homes near Norco.

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison was working to restore power to about 40,000 customers. Edison's service area had around 730,000 customers without power at one time or another since Sunday night when the Santa Ana winds began to blow.

"We will continue our efforts to get everyone energized again," promised Ron Ferree, manager of Edison's distribution operations. "Because of the all the damage, the fires in the region, and these strong winds, some customers will likely remain without power until Thursday, if not longer."

More than 80,000 customers lost power in the San Diego area during the night.

The high-pressure system over the Great Basin that spawned the Santa Ana condition drifted toward the northeast where it was expected to bring winds to the Midwest and break up the current warm spell by Thursday.

Precipitation nationwide was limited, although the Syracuse, N.Y. area was awaiting snow that was expected to accumulate 3-5 inches overnight and continue into the weekend.

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