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Santa Barbara County’s South Coast Under High Wind Warning, with 50 mph Gusts Possible

More than 200,000 SCE customers affected by power outages; Westmont students reported evacuated briefly after house catches fire above campus

The National Weather Service upgraded a wind advisory Wednesday evening to a high wind warning for southwestern California. Damaging winds were expected to pound Santa Barbara County’s South Coast through early Friday with gusts to 50 mph possible.

The strongest gusts will be near Gaviota and the Montecito foothills, according to the warning. At 4 a.m. Thursday, Montecito was being swept by house-shaking winds.

Late Wednesday, Westmont College reported on its Twitter feed that firefighters had contained a house fire north of the campus on La Paz Road in Montecito.

“Due to high winds, Westmont had evacuated all students to the gym,” @WestmontNews said in a tweet posted early Thursday. “The fire department has cleared them to return to their residence halls.”

The Montecito Fire Protection District reported Thursday morning that the fire occurred shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday at 315 E. Mountain Drive. When crews arrived, a 20-foot travel trailer was fully engulfed in flames.

Three years ago, the wind-driven Tea Fire ignited above Westmont and quickly raged through the campus, destroying dormitories, faculty housing, classroom buildings and other facilities.

“The evacuation of students went very smoothly,” said Troy Harris, Westmont’s director of risk management. “Many students had been through this ‘drill’ before, as this year’s seniors had been evacuated as freshmen during the Tea Fire.”

Late Thursday morning, Southern California Edison reported 211,469 customers affected by wind-related outages. Crews were working to restore service throughout its 50,000-square-mile territory.

Anyone who sees a downed line or dangling wire — even if it appears not to be live — is advised not to touch or approach it, and to call 9-1-1 immediately.

The weather service had said a cold upper-level, low-pressure system that dropped down from Alaska was parked over southeastern California on Wednesday, creating conditions for very strong and widespread offshore winds throughout southwestern California.

Late Wednesday, wind gusts near 100 mph were recorded near 4,100-foot Whitaker Peak in Angeles National Forest north of Santa Clarita. Gale-force winds were lashing the Santa Barbara Channel. Widespread power outages were reported in Los Angeles County.

Authorities warned that the winds could be the strongest the region has experienced in years.

The forecast for Wednesday night calls for clear skies and cold temperatures, with a low of 47 degrees. The rest of the week should be sunny and warm, with temperatures reaching the mid- to high 60s, with clear, cold nights dropping down to the low 40s.

Concerned about the high risk of fire danger caused by the combination of strong winds and low humidity, authorities set a red-flag warning beginning Wednesday night. Officials also advised residents to watch for downed power lines and trees, and motorists were urged to use caution along Highways 101, 154, 192 and 246.

» Click here for the complete National Weather Service forecast.

» Click here for the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department’s interactive precipitation map.

» Click here for the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Services. Click here to sign up for the OES’ messaging service. Connect with the OES on Facebook.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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