DEVIL WINDS: The season of the Santa...


DEVIL WINDS: The season of the Santa Ana winds is upon us and that’s both good and bad news. The winds blow out pollutants, but they also fan wildfires. Some believe the name originates with the Spanish word, satanas , meaning Satan. More likely, they are named for Santa Ana Canyon, the gap between the Santa Ana Mountains in Orange and Riverside counties, where the winds are strongest.

ARTISTIC LICENSE: Call it artistic license, or call it making stuff up. Some of America’s finest authors have written about the Santa Ana winds, and not always accurately. Raymond Chandler said when the wind blows, “every booze party ends in a fight [and] meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” Joan Didion called it “the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread.” Wrong. The police and coroner say the winds bring no change in the crime and suicide rates.

FLYING SPIDERS: No, it’s not a reunion of World War II pilots. It’s spiders which, it seems, like to ride the Santa Ana currents to invade new homes. Larry Brown, above, branch manager of Stanley Pest Control in Van Nuys, said migrating spiders have been found 20 miles out to sea.


SICK AND TIRED: Red eyes, stuffed-up noses and ticks. These are the better-known examples of the misery caused by the hot, dry winds. Reseda optician Jacques Gabrielli says business goes up a third during the Santa Anas, with complaints about vision problems. Andrew Yellen, a Northridge psychologist, says Tourette’s syndrome symptoms are exacerbated by the wind.

FANNING THE FLAMES: The most frightening of all effects of the Santa Anas is their propensity for whipping a placid little brush fire into a homicidal maniac of a natural disaster. The Los Angeles Fire Department is so concerned about the danger that on Red Flag days--when the winds are more than 25 miles per hour and the humidity is less than 15%--they assign an extra 20 pieces of heavy equipment around the Valley, including 18 engines.