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Authorities warn of fire threats as howling winds hit Southern California

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 3:12 AM EST, Sun December 4, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Crews are cleaning up debris around Los Angeles County
  • A county spokesman calls the windstorm "probably the worst" in more than a decade
  • The "red-flag warning" for fires is in effect in Los Angeles and Ventura counties

(CNN) -- A fire alert was in effect in Southern California until Sunday morning following warnings that the powerful winds pounding the region could ignite fast-moving blazes.

The "red-flag warning" in Los Angeles and Ventura counties means gusty winds and low humidity make it favorable for fire to grow rapidly if it ignites.

"This, in combination with dry fuels, could create extreme fire danger and/or fire behavior," the National Weather Service said.

The warning is in effect through Sunday morning.

As the winds howled, recovery crews in Southern California cleaned up downed power lines and damaged structures.

The winds left thousands of people without power.

"From what we have been told, this was probably the worst windstorm to hit this particular area in over a decade," said Bob Spencer, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

The weather was good Saturday, with clear skies and high temperatures in the 60s. Strong winds were short of the hurricane-force gusts measured during the week.

The unusually powerful Santa Ana winds descend to the Pacific Coast around Los Angeles from inland desert regions, according to the weather service.

The weather service reported gusts stronger than 140 mph along the Sierra Crest mountain ridge, while there were roughly 100 mph-hour winds in the San Gabriel Mountain Foothills of southern California.

Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency "to ensure that state and federal financial resources are available to serve county residents impacted by the windstorms," Supervisor Michael Antonovich said.

CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report

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