104-mph gusts recorded as Santa Ana winds wreak havoc across Southern California

A wind-driven fire ripped through a large pallet yard in Fontana. (OnScene.TV)

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The strongest Santa Ana winds of the year lashed Los Angeles and Ventura counties Wednesday, toppling semi-trucks, damaging electrical equipment and igniting a blaze in a pallet yard in Fontana.

Santa Anas, easterly winds that develop because of high pressure over the Great Basin, such as the Nevada and Utah area, typically come in from the northeast and pass over the mountain slopes into the Los Angeles area, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Wofford. As they pass over the mountains, they tend to accelerate and warm up, resulting in strong gusts down in the valleys and mountainous regions.

Moderate winds began to develop Tuesday morning and increased to gusts between 60 and 70 mph in some areas, according to the weather service.

Gusts around 104 mph were recorded around 5 a.m. Wednesday at the Magic Mountain Truck Trail in Santa Clarita, according to the weather service. Winds reached 82 mph at the Palo Sola Truck Road and 81 mph at Browns Canyon.

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A red flag warning was in effect for Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Wednesday afternoon because of the strong winds and low humidity levels between 8% and 15%.

Despite the storm last week that brought record-breaking rainfall to some areas of Southern California, fuel moistures are still low in western Los Angeles County and Ventura County since the bulk of the rain was focused in eastern L.A. County, Wofford said.

“If there’s an ignition source, with these weather conditions, it can certainly take off,” he added.

However, the winds proved to be less intense than expected in some areas of the Southland with the weather service canceling high wind warnings in Ventura County, the San Fernando Valley and the Malibu area Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve reached our peak around during the 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. period, but they’re still strong winds,” Wofford said.

High winds topple massive eucalyptus tree in Fontana. (OnScene.TV)

Gusty winds continued to blow into Wednesday evening with humidity lingering between 8% and 14% in portions of Los Angeles County mountains.

Winds are expected to last into Thursday, although gusts are expected to be slower, between 45 and 50 mph.

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Wednesday’s winds caused problems throughout Southern California, knocking over electrical equipment and making travel difficult.

The San Bernardino County Fire Department responded to a fire just before midnight Wednesday near Boyle and Catawba avenues near the 10 Freeway in Fontana. Officials said the fire could have started at a truck yard or pallet yard before it spread to nearby homes and cars.

The blaze was fueled by 50-mph winds but was eventually extinguished, fire officials said.

The winds also blew an electrical pole for a high-tension wire dangerously close to the roof of a strip mall and several homes in Sylmar, prompting the shopping center’s evacuation.

The only way out of the homes was under the pole, and residents were escorted by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel.

No injuries were reported.

The weather service said downed tree branches were reported across Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

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A semi-truck toppled by high winds blocks traffic on the 210 Freeway.

A semi-truck tipped over by Santa Ana winds on the 201 Freeway in Rancho Cucamonga hangs over Day Creek Boulevard.

At least five big rigs were overturned Wednesday morning on the 210 and 15 freeways in the Rancho Cucamonga area, resulting in the temporary closing of all southbound lanes of the 15 Freeway.

Wofford recommended securing anything outdoors that could topple or blow away, such as umbrellas, and to be careful while driving, especially through mountain passes.

“Winds like this are variable so they can be very light one minute and then suddenly you can get a 50-mph gust come through,” he said. “Driving is a hazard in these kinds of situations.”

Another Santa Ana event is expected to arrive Saturday and although it’s not expected to be as strong as the current one, gusty winds paired with low humidity could usher in similar conditions over the weekend.

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“We could be right in this situation again on Saturday,” Wofford added.