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Wildfires Hit Beverly Hills & Palmdale

A wind-driven wildfire erupted in hills above Los Angeles and destroyed or damaged three homes in Beverly Hills as dangerous gusts swept dry Southern California, knocking out power to about 190,000 utility customers and triggering a fatal highway pileup in a sandstorm. Other fires erupted elsewhere.

Daphna Ziman was getting ready for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser at her Woodland Drive home when there was suddenly smoke everywhere and police came to the door and told her to evacuate.

"It was black outside, you couldn't walk through it, I've never seen anything like it," she said.

About 200 people evacuated the area.

"It's absolutely horrible," said Joan Benny, daughter of the late Jack Benny, a canyon resident.

About 200 firefighters attacked the flames from the ground as five helicopters repeatedly swooped out of the sky on water-dropping runs that contained the fire to 15 acres, but not before embers ignited expensive homes. Authorities initially said 50 acres had burned, but revised the estimate after surveying the burn area by air.

Interim Los Angeles Fire Chief Douglas Barry said there was severe damage to two homes and roof damage to another. A Beverly Hills city statement, however, said one was a total loss.

The fire broke out after powerful winds toppled power lines, igniting brush behind a residence, said Ron Myers, a fire department spokesman.

The blaze was reported about 1 p.m. in Franklin Canyon, east of the Beverly Glen area of Los Angeles and north of Beverly Hills, where roads meander through neighborhoods of expensive homes.

Myers said the fire was essentially contained but firefighters were still working because of hotspots and concern that winds could fan embers into flames.

Southern California is extremely fire-prone after a dry winter. Downtown Los Angeles has recorded less than 2½ inches of rain since July 1.

Gusts blowing out of the north and northwest arrived in the morning and raked the region.

Power outages hit more than 100,000 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers and 89,700 Southern California Edison customers, utility officials said. Commuters heading east out of Los Angeles found traffic snarled by blacked-out signals and streets cluttered with downed palm fronds.

In northern Los Angeles County, 150 firefighters fought a 15- to 20-acre blaze in the desert city of Palmdale, said county fire Inspector Sam Padilla. Homes were threatened for a time before most of the active flames were knocked down, he said.

"We've got heavy winds," Padilla said.

In the city of Brea, a brush fire briefly threatened a mobile home park before a water-dropping helicopter and firefighters extinguished it.

No structures were burned but the fire blackened several acres along the side of the Carbon Canyon Dam, said Capt. Stephen Miller of the Orange County Fire Authority. Authorities were looking at whether the fire might have been sparked by a downed power line.

Winds in the area were blowing at 25-35 mph and power was out in scattered areas, Miller said.

Utilities called in all available crews as winds ripped down power lines.

"It is all winds-related," said LADWP spokeswoman Gale Harris. "We don't know when we'll be able to restore service."

In SoCal Edison's territory, outages were mainly in the San Gabriel Valley, Ojai and the Antelope Valley and high desert.

In the inland region east of Los Angeles, 50 mph winds whipped sandstorms across San Bernardino County's desert roadways.

The winds were believed to have played a role in a 17-vehicle pileup that killed two people in Newberry Springs, the California Highway Patrol said.

Big rigs, motor homes and other vehicles were involved in the midmorning chain-reaction crash on Interstate 40. Six other people were hurt, CHP Lt. Todd Sturges said from Barstow.

Three other big-rig accidents were reported on the same stretch of road but without injuries.

Several roads were closed as "brownout" conditions reduced visibility to 50 feet or less.

"It almost looks like fog right now and it just encompasses hundreds of square miles," Sturges said.

High winds at Los Angeles International Airport forced nine jets to make second approaches, a procedure known as a "go-around," while the pilot of American Airlines Flight 19 from New York chose to divert to LA/Ontario International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Two other American Airlines flights on the ground at LAX briefly delayed takeoffs because of the winds but both eventually departed, said Tim Smith, an airline spokesman in Fort Worth, Texas

At least five other planes bound for three Southern California airports also diverted to Ontario, airport spokesman Harold Johnson said.

Winds downed trees and damaged buildings.

Dan Davidson at the Lexus of Riverside car dealership in Riverside said a burst of wind ripped the roof off a nearby building and sent it crashing onto a dozen customers' cars that were parked in a dealership lot. The cars appeared to be destroyed, Davidson told KABC-TV.

"It looked like a twister to me," he said.

In Burbank, wind knocked out power to the campus of Woodbury University, prompting officials to cancel Thursday night's classes.