Strong Santa Ana winds that barrelled into Kern County Wednesday morning downed trees and power lines, sparked grass fires and caused an air pollution spike that prompted an emergency warning and canceled high school sports and other outdoor activity.
Across the county emergency crews scurried to intersections, where traffic lights went dark, and cleared debris from roadways.
"We have bought lanterns, batteries, and a generator," said businesswoman Stella Ward, of Stallion Springs, where power was cut by Southern California Edison to protect against wildfires. "When there is a potential power outage I try to charge my devices, fill my vehicle's tank with gas, and have enough food for a couple of days."
The outage impacted about 13,000 SCE customers in Tehachapi and surrounding areas and closed schools for the day. Many businesses and gas stations were also shuttered.
About 5,000 PG&E customers in Bakersfield and more in outlying areas were also without power Wednesday due to weather events and public safety outages, PG&E reported online.
The winds are part of a cold front moving from the Great Basin into California and gusts in the 30 to 40 mph range were expected to last into Thursday morning on the valley floor, said Carlos Molina with the National Weather Service in Hanford. The Kern County Mountains could see winds up to 60 mph.
By mid-day the National Weather service had issued a high wind warning, a red flag (high fire risk) warning for eastern Kern County, a hard freeze warning for the Kern County desert and an air quality alert.
Bakersfield Police responded to more than two dozen traffic hazards, said Sgt. Nathan McCauley, mostly trees in the road or an errant patio umbrella that blew into the street.
"Lots and lots of trees," McCauley said. "Any time we have our first storm of the year that's a big problem."
Fire crews were busy throughout the day extinguishing small fires reported in several areas. Just before 11 a.m. a brush fire was reported near a defunct power station about two miles inside the mouth of the Kern River Canyon that closed Highway 178 for about an hour.
And an evacuation order was briefly in effect but later lifted in Stallion Springs, near Tehachapi, after a structure fire broke out there around 9:30 a.m. and spread to about 8 acres of nearby grass, the Kern County Fire Department said on Twitter.
Starting around 7 a.m., air quality in Bakersfield had deteriorated to levels considered unhealthy for everyone, according to real-time readings from monitors in the Central Bakersfield area, available on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s website. Later in the day, the air district issued an air quality emergency warning, saying pollution levels could hit dangerously high levels due to winds through Wednesday evening.
The Kern High School District recommended its school cancel all sports and outdoor activity because of bad air. And air district officials urged the public and businesses to do what they could to keep emissions down during this episode. For example, residents should delay outdoor lawn care, grilling and the use of residential wood-burning devices, and avoid all unnecessary driving.