California Firefighters Contain Wind-Driven Brush Blaze, Thousands Left Without Power

Fires erupted in the hills above Los Angeles, damaging or destroying several homes as dangerous north winds swept dry southern California. Farther inland, a blinding sandstorm triggered a deadly highway pileup.

Wind speeds of more than 50 mph (80 kph) on Thursday propelled the blaze in grass near expensive mountainside homes above the city of Beverly Hills, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Ron Myers said.

About 200 firefighters, some using water-dropping helicopters, contained the blaze to 50 acres (20 hectares), or less than a square mile (2.6 square kilometers), in the Beverly Glen neighborhood on the south face of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Interim Los Angeles Fire Chief Douglas Barry said homes were damaged by flames.

The cause was under investigation. Barry said arson had not been ruled out.

Daphna Ziman was getting ready for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser at her Woodland Drive home when there was suddenly smoke everywhere. 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.

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

Smaller fires burned elsewhere in Southern California, including a 15- to 20-acre (six- to eight-hectare) blaze in Palmdale, a desert city in northern Los Angeles County. Homes were threatened for a time before most of the active flames were knocked down, county fire Inspector Sam Padilla said.

Fires caused power outages for more than 160,000 customers in Los Angeles County and surrounding areas. Utility officials did not know when service would be restored.

Southern California is extremely fire-prone after a dry winter. Downtown Los Angeles has recorded less than 2.5 inches (6.35 centimeters) of rain since July 1.

In the inland region east of Los Angeles, 50 mph (80 kph) winds whipped sandstorms across San Bernardino County's desert roadways.

A morning pileup on Interstate 40 killed two people and injured several others near Barstow during zero-visibility conditions, authorities said.

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

High winds at Los Angeles International Airport forced jets to make second approaches, while others chose to divert to LA/Ontario International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said.