Wednesday, November 26, 2008
By Guy McCarthy
Even if no more heavy rain falls on burned areas, no more wind blows, and nothing else burns for the next year, nature reminded a region who's in charge over the past two and a half weeks.
While many residents in Yorba Linda remain under voluntary evacuation status this evening in the event heavy rains return overnight, a quick recap may be in order before Thanksgiving arrives.
Just two weeks ago, the weather was switching rapidly - from a powerful cold front that contributed to at least eight deaths in San Bernardino County to severe fire weather that helped destroy or damage close to one thousand homes from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and the Santa Ana River.
Now we have rain when we need it, but it still seems like a curse for those who live in and below the watersheds scorched by fires so far this season.
Whether Yorba Linda and Orange County officials over-compensated for the post-fire erosion threat in the past few days - after firestorms exposed shortcomings in land use planning, emergency response and communications - is irrelevant.
The fact remains that obvious, foreseeable elements like wind, fire and rain again showed how dominant nature can be, and how limited even the nation's best-coordinated local, state and federal agencies are when the real deal goes down.
No matter how many volunteers, firefighters, police officers, pilots and utility workers we organize against fires and floods - there is nothing anyone can do if the winds blow hard enough or if the rains keep coming - except get out of the way.
In the meantime, perhaps everyone needs a break. The weather forecasters, who have been fairly reliable over the past two and half weeks, say we're going to get one.
But keep at least one eye wary.
Mill Creek Canyon on Tuesday.
Fears of post-fire erosion resulted in mandatory evacuation orders just before 2 a.m. today in vulnerable Yorba Linda neighborhoods, as heavy rains continued pounding the Freeway Complex Fire burned areas.
From the city's web site:
MANDATORY EVACUATIONS ORDERED
"Mandatory evacuations are in effect for the Brush Canyon Area, the Box Canyon Area, and the North Fairmont/San Antonio area. During the mandatory evacuation, the Thomas Lasorda, Jr. Field House (4701 Casa Loma Avenue) will be available as a shelter location."
The Weather Service updated flash flood warnings at 12:40 a.m. and 12:52 a.m. today for the Freeway Complex Fire burned area, in effect until at least 3:45 a.m.
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
FLASH FLOOD WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN DIEGO CA
1240 AM PST WED NOV 26 2008
* FLASH FLOOD WARNING FOR... EXTREME SOUTHWESTERN SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST CALIFORNIA... NORTH CENTRAL ORANGE COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST CALIFORNIA... THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF YORBA LINDA... EXTREME NORTHWESTERN RIVERSIDE COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST CALIFORNIA...
* UNTIL 330 AM PST
* AT 1230 AM PST...RADAR SHOWED NUMEROUS SHOWERS AND ISOLATED THUNDERSTORMS WITH MODERATE TO HEAVY RAINFALL MOVING ACROSS THE BURN AREAS. THIS IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE THROUGH 2 AM.
INCLUDED IN THE FLASH FLOOD WARNING ARE AREAS THAT BURNED IN THE FREEWAY COMPLEX FIRE. AREAS THAT ARE PRONE TO DEBRIS FLOW INCLUDE OLINDA VILLAGE NEAR BREA...CARBON CANYON...BRUSH CANYON...BOX CANYON AND SAN ANTONIO NEAR YORBA LINDA AND NEAR THE CASCADE APARTMENTS IN ANAHEIM.
DEBRIS FLOWS...INCLUDING MUD AND ROCK SLIDES...ARE EXPECTED WITH THIS STORM. MUD SLIDES AND ROCK SLIDES CAN POTENTIALLY TRAP AND KILL PEOPLE CAUGHT IN THEIR PATH.
RESIDENTS AND MOTORISTS IN AND BELOW RECENTLY BURNED AREAS SHOULD BE ALERT TO HEAVY MUD AND DEBRIS FLOWS WHICH MAY BLOCK ROADS AND CULVERTS. POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS FLOODING AND PROPERTY LOSS COULD RESULT IN AREAS WHERE RUNOFF IS RESTRICTED OR BLOCKED. ADDITIONAL RAINFALL AMOUNTS OF ONE QUARTER TO ONE HALF INCH PER HOUR ARE POSSIBLE IN THE WARNED AREA.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Storm over east San Gabriel range Tuesday evening.
Updated warning at 11:57 p.m. for the burned areas in Los Angeles County:
FLASH FLOOD STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OXNARD CA
1157 PM PST TUE NOV 25 2008
...A FLASH FLOOD WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 1245 AM PST FOR THE SAYRE...MAREK AND SESNON BURN AREAS IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY...
AT 1150 PM PST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED HEAVY RAIN FALLING OVER SAYRE...MAREK AND SESNON BURN AREAS. BRIEFLY INTENSE RAINFALL RATES OF OVER QUARTER OF AN INCH IN 15 MINUTES HAVE BEEN REPORTED IN GAUGES NEAR THE BURN AREA. HEAVY RAIN IS EXPECTED TO PERSIST THROUGH AT LEAST 1245 AM PST WEDNESDAY.
RAINFALL IS EXPECTED TO CAUSE FLASH FLOODS AND DEBRIS FLOWS IN AND AROUND THE SAYRE...MAREK AND SESNON BURN AREAS.
BE ESPECIALLY CAUTIOUS AT NIGHT WHEN IT IS DIFFICULT TO RECOGNIZE THE DANGERS OF FLASH FLOODING AND DEBRIS FLOWS. IF FLASH FLOODING OR DEBRIS FLOWS ARE OBSERVED...ACT QUICKLY.
LAT...LON 3437 11866 3441 11838 3429 11834 3422 11860
As storm cells make their way inland tonight, a flash flood warning has been issued for the burned areas in Los Angeles County.
From the National Weather Service:
BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
FLASH FLOOD WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OXNARD CA
1118 PM PST TUE NOV 25 2008
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN OXNARD HAS ISSUED A
* FLASH FLOOD WARNING FOR...
THE SAYRE...MAREK AND SESNON BURN AREAS IN
LOS ANGELES COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST CALIFORNIA...
* UNTIL 1245 AM PST
* AT 1105 PM PST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED VERY HEAVY RAIN APPROACHING THE BURN AREAS FROM THE SOUTH. RAINFALL RATES OVER ONE HALF INCH PER HOUR ARE EXPECTED THROUGH 1245 AM PST WEDNESDAY.
* LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING AREA INCLUDE LOCATIONS IN AND NEAR THE SAYRE...MAREK AND SESNON BURN AREAS.
RESIDENTS AND MOTORISTS IN AND BELOW RECENTLY BURNED AREAS SHOULD BE ALERT TO FLASH FLOODING AND DEBRIS FLOWS WHICH MAY BLOCK ROADS AND CULVERTS.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Cloud cover over east San Gabriels today.
By Guy McCarthy
A flash flood watch issued at 1 p.m. today for the coming storm has been expanded to include the recent burn areas in Santa Barbara County and the San Fernando Valley.
At 2:27 p.m., a statement from the National Weather Service in Oxnard emphasized the concern for areas scorched by fires:
ALTHOUGH A STORM OF THIS MAGNITUDE THIS TIME OF YEAR WOULD NOT BY ITSELF POSE A RISK FOR LIFE-THREATENING FLOODING...AREAS THAT HAVE BEEN DENUDED FROM RECENT BURNS ARE AT AN INCREASED RISK FOR FLASH FLOODS AND DEBRIS FLOWS...AND THE FLASH FLOOD WATCH IS FOR THESE AREAS ONLY.
The watch area highlighted by the National Weather Service includes the estimated 47 square miles that burned in the Freeway Complex Fire.
If hard rains come to inland areas, they are expected between Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening.
Residents in and below recently burned areas in Orange County have been warned of the potential danger for several days. Sandbagging and other mitigation efforts continue today in Yorba Linda.
Here's the 1 p.m. alert:
* FLASH FLOOD WATCH FOR A PORTION OF SOUTHWEST CALIFORNIA...INCLUDING THE FOLLOWING AREAS...COACHELLA VALLEY...ORANGE COUNTY COASTAL AREAS...RIVERSIDE COUNTY MOUNTAINS...SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY MOUNTAINS...SAN BERNARDINO AND RIVERSIDE COUNTY VALLEYS-THE INLAND EMPIRE...SAN DIEGO COUNTY COASTAL AREAS...SAN DIEGO COUNTY DESERTS...SAN DIEGO COUNTY MOUNTAINS...SAN DIEGO COUNTY VALLEYS AND SANTA ANA MOUNTAINS AND FOOTHILLS.
* FROM TUESDAY EVENING THROUGH WEDNESDAY EVENING
* A STORM APPROACHING FROM THE WEST WILL BRING PERIODS OF MODERATE TO HEAVY RAIN TUESDAY EVENING INTO WEDNESDAY EVENING. THE SNOW LEVEL WILL START OUT QUITE HIGH AND THEN LOWER TO ABOUT 6500 FEET BY WEDNESDAY NIGHT...SO MOST OF THE PRECIPITATION WILL FALL AS RAIN. THIS WILL MAKE FLASH FLOODING POSSIBLE...ESPECIALLY IN AND BELOW RECENTLY BURNED AREAS AND NEAR STEEP TERRAIN.
A FLASH FLOOD WATCH MEANS THAT CONDITIONS MAY DEVELOP THAT LEAD TO FLASH FLOODING. FLASH FLOODING IS A VERY DANGEROUS SITUATION.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Yorba Linda subdivision below Chino Hills State Park.
By Guy McCarthy
Yorba Linda city officials warned residents today of potential for devastating post-fire erosion if hard rains hit slopes scorched and denuded by the recent fires.
"Due to the Freeway Complex Fire on November 15-16, nearly all the vegetation on the hillsides along the northern interface between the City and Chino Hills State Park has burned away," Yorba Linda officials said in a statement titled "Post-Fire Rain Events."
"As a result, much of the remaining soil and debris could wash down into surrounding neighborhoods when it rains. These mudflows may result in additional property damage."
More information for Yorba Linda residents is posted here. City of Brea officials have also posted information on erosion control on their site.
Showers are possible in the region next week, according to The Weather Channel.
One reason local governments take the post-fire threat so seriously is the Christmas 2003 deaths of 16 people in canyons north of San Bernardino. Heavy rains on steep mountain slopes burned two months before by the Old Fire unleashed tons of ash, burned soil, boulders and logs. The dead included nine children.
The Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register have stories here and here.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Cal Fire investigator Monday in Riverside County.
By Guy McCarthy
A week ago today, nothing had burned.
Not in the past month anyway.
Now scientists are studying massive tracts of blackened earth from Santa Barbara and Sylmar to the Santa Ana River, to quantify how the region's most recent firestorms will impact water quality and slope stability.
Lead agencies include the Orange County Flood Control District and the Orange County Water District.
"The sheriff, the fire authority and the flood control district are working together to understand the impacts of the fire," Nadeem Majaj, assistant chief engineer for Orange County flood control said today in a phone interview.
"We're meeting next week to strategize our preparations for the winter," Majaj said. "We've already inspected dams, basins and channels, in particular the Carbon Canyon Dam. We'll be providing guidance to cities as to what they can expect."
The Freeway Complex Fire burned more than 47 square miles and destroyed or damaged 313 homes, according to Orange County Fire Authority estimates updated today.
Destroyed home Monday in Yorba Linda.
The Freeway Complex Fire started Saturday in Corona and burned into three other counties.
But Orange County will bear the brunt of impacts from the fire, said Jeff Beehler, environmental project manager for the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA).
In November 2003, the Riverside-based authority prepared a detailed report on how the Old, Grand Prix and Padua fires of October that year could impact the Santa Ana watershed, which is home to more than 5 million people.
The watershed also supplies most of the drinking water for people who live there, according to SAWPA.
A year ago, the authority issued a map showing six fires that impacted the Santa Ana watershed in October 2007, including the Santiago Fire in Orange County and the Slide and Grass Valley fires in the San Bernardino National Forest.
An updated report on fire impacts from SAWPA this year is unlikely, Beehler said Wednesday.
"This is going to impact Orange County," Beehler said.
Last year after the October 2007 fires, the U.S. Geological Survey prepared a report on how ash and burned soil could adversely affect water quality, human health, endangered species, and contribute to debris flow or flooding hazards.
To mitigate potential effects from the burned areas on drinking water supply, the Orange County Water District is diverting as little water as possible from the Santa Ana River into its deep recharge basins, according to Eleanor Torres, a spokeswoman for the district.
The district has more than 1,600 monitoring stations to ensure water quality, Torres said in a phone interview.
"What we're hoping is the first heavy rains will flush the river out," Torres said.
Local, state and federal agencies typically cooperate to form Burned Area Emergency Response teams after any major fire in Southern California. The most recent episode of catastrophic firestorms is no exception.
Destroyed home Monday in Yorba Linda.
Photos by Guy McCarthy
Monday, November 17, 2008
Porcelain figures rescued from ashes Monday.
By Guy McCarthy
From Corona to Yorba Linda and Carbon Canyon, it was clear Monday why some forestry and fire specialists have started using the term "fireshed."
It was also obvious that post-fire erosion will be a concern the next time it rains hard on an estimated 45 square miles of blackened slopes and gullies, from the Santa Ana River to the Chino Hills.
But Monday was also a time for survivors of the weekend fires to reflect and count their blessings, while firefighters and utility crews worked into the night for a third day in a row.
Investigators were busy too. Near the point of origin for the so-called Freeway Complex in Corona, a team from Cal Fire worked in a charred field, using red and yellow flags to mark the fire's movement in its earliest stages.
"We're still in the process of conducting the investigation to determine the cause of the fire," said Cal Fire Capt. Marc DeRosier, who is based in San Bernardino. "That has not been determined yet."
DeRosier added that he and his team were assisting the Corona Fire Department with the investigation.
"The red flags designate forward advance of the fire," DeRosier said. "The yellow flags designate lateral progression of the fire."
A few hundred yards away in the first community where homes were damaged, Sandy Brown, 60, felt fortunate most of her house on Feather River Road was still standing.
"I'm not totally surprised by the fire, because the house backs up to wilderness," Brown said. "That's why we bought it, for the view.
"The firefighters were wonderful, of course," Brown said. "Channel 4 showed 10 of them on the roof, chopping away at the flames. The whole roof is a total loss, but the rest of the house is okay."
Brown's tenant, Kay Rains, said she was completely surprised by the fire.
"There was no warning whatsoever," Rains said. "No sirens, no fire engines at first. A lot of smoke, and then the neighbor's yard was on fire.
"People should just be prepared at any time," Rains said. "This can happen to you."
Several miles west and high above the riverbed on Alpine Lane in Yorba Linda, Ron Gibson, 53, made a similar point.
"When they say you have 30 seconds to get out, they mean 30 seconds," Gibson said. "A fireball came over that ridge, six stories high. We had to run for our lives."
Gibson said he and his family barely escaped, and everything else burned, including their vehicles.
"It was like a mushroom cloud that engulfed everything," Gibson said of the flames. "The house is gone. A huge mistake that we built. But the insurance company has told me they'll take care of everything."
Gibson's 19-year-old daughter, Summer, said the loss of her home and belongings rattled her. But she said she also sees a chance to turn over a new leaf.
"My parents told me to pack, but I wasn't listening," she said. "I'm just a spoiled girl with two closets of clothes, who always had everything. Now all that's gone.
"This is really a reality check. I feel sorry for my neighbors. But I still feel fortunate."
On San Antonio Road, 18-year-old Richard Fitkin sifted through ashes and found a group of tiny white porcelain figures.
"It's a nativity scene, from the day Christ was born," Fitkin said, after lining them up on a charred beam that used to be part of his home. "They're the only thing in the house that survived."
Fitkin said he woke up Saturday morning, the fire came out of the hills, and there were no warnings on his street.
"Apparently the house burned down in 30 minutes," Fitkin said.
According to Cal Fire and the Orange County Fire Authority, the fire that started in Corona and spread to three neighboring counties destroyed more than 150 homes and damaged more than 100.
At 7 p.m. Monday, containment of the fires was estimated at 60 percent. Fighting the fires up to that point had cost an estimated $10.7 million.
In Los Angeles County, evacuations for Diamond Bar residents were lifted Monday afternoon. But as the sun set on the other side of the hills in San Bernardino County, it was clear an evacuation order remained in effect on Carbon Canyon Road all the way to Sleepy Hollow.
In the meantime, a group of neighbors who refused to evacuate had the town to themselves. They were disappointed the local liquor store had closed for the fires, but they were making do Monday night with a bottle of sake and ice.
"We stayed because we knew the fire would come," said Bill Worthing, 37, sitting in his driveway with Robin Overholser, 56.
"The whole ridge was glowing red, embers were flying, we had flames 50 feet away," Worthing said, recalling the height of the threat early Sunday. "We worked with shovels and garden hoses."
Manny Ocampo, 33, joined his neighbors and declined sake for the time being.
"It was pretty scary, but we fed off each other," Ocampo said. "It was like hell at night, raining down embers."
Another neighbor named Ethan joined the driveway gathering.
"The laziest friends I have were out here fighting fire," Ethan said. "We were yelling at each other - 'You still over there?' 'I can feel it over here.'"
Firefighters and inmate crews were patrolling for hot spots in Sleepy Hollow well after dark Monday. Just beyond Sleepy Hollow, Edison crews worked under generator-powered lamps to repair downed power poles and sagging lines.
According to the City of Chino Hills, "Due to the nature of the communities in Carbon Canyon, fire officials cannot do their job and share the road with the number of vehicles that would be in the area if the order was lifted."
The evacuation order will be lifted at 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to Chino Hills officials.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Recent sunset over east Redlands.
By Guy McCarthy
REDLANDS - While a firestorm fed by sundowner winds has claimed a hundred or more homes up the coast in Montecito, the National Weather Service has expanded red flag warnings to include coastal slopes below 5,000 feet in the San Bernardino National Forest and other mountains of southwest San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The updated warnings issued at 2:47 p.m. today reflect ongoing concerns for rising temperatures, low humidity and explosive fire potential similar to what unfolded yesterday evening in Santa Barbara County.
Red flag warnings also continue until 4 p.m. Saturday for Ventura and Los Angeles counties, excluding the Antelope Valley. Warnings updated at 3:02 p.m. today make specific mention of potential for gusting winds from the Hollywood Hills to Malibu.
More from the Weather Service:
"The red flag warning is being expanded this evening to include all of the Cleveland National Forest . . . the San Diego County mountains . . . and the San Diego County inland valleys."
The warnings continue in effect until Saturday afternoon for these areas, with potential for relative humidity below 15 percent and northeast winds 25 to 45 mph, gusting 55 to 65 mph, according to the Weather Service.
"Forecast models continue to project moderate Santa Ana winds through Saturday with the strongest offshore pressure gradients occurring this evening through Saturday morning," according to the Weather Service in San Diego.
In other words, it's hot, dry and breezy right now.
But the winds may pick up tonight.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Sheriff's helicopter after sunrise, Rialto, November 2007.
Cucamonga Peak and east San Gabriels in the distance.
By Guy McCarthy
CAJON PASS - Just a few days after a cold front contributed to at least eight deaths in San Bernardino County, the National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings in Southern California for increased fire danger due to near-record heat, low humidity, and a return of Santa Ana winds.
Fire crews are expected to be on heightened alert from tomorrow morning through at least Saturday afternoon. Officials in San Diego issued warnings for the Inland Empire and the Santa Ana Mountains and foothills at 12:55 p.m. today. Warnings for Los Angeles and Ventura counties were issued this morning.
From the San Gorgonio Pass to the San Fernando Valley, local, state and federal agencies are well aware of the potential for critical fire weather.
Forecasters can see the winds coming days in advance - but nobody knows for sure where they'll strike hardest.
"This might be the first serious Santa Ana event of the season," said Bill Patzert, an oceanographer and forecaster for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in La Canada Flintridge. "The others so far have been puny.
"The high pressure system over the Great Basin is setting up in the classic position," Patzert said in a phone interview today. "I think we're going to see record or near-record temps up to 100 degrees in the inland valleys, for the next three days.
"These definitely qualify as devil winds," Patzert said. "We haven't seen the meteorology lined up like this in a while. The problem is you never know which canyon or pass is going to get it."
Weather Service forecasters in Oxnard issued red flag warnings before noon today. Their counterparts in San Diego had issued fire weather watches on Tuesday, said NWS meteorologist Steve Vanderburg.
"Typically the worst areas for the winds are in and below the Cajon Pass, and communities like Devore, Rialto, Ontario and Corona," said Vanderburg, who is based in San Diego.
From critical fire weather conditions to cold fronts and back again, the whipsaw mood swings of mother nature are routine this time of year, Vanderburg said.
"This happens in Southern California as fall transitions into winter," Vanderburg said. "We can get stuck in this pattern, with heat waves followed by cold storms. You can see radical temperature swings in the valleys, because you're close to the mountains.
"You have an 11,000-foot range there, and the valleys drop down as low as 500 feet elevation in places," Vanderburg said. "You see a bit of everything."
The cold front that moved across Southern California early Sunday brought high winds that hurled dust and sand across a vast region, from the Owens Valley to the lowlands of Riverside and San Diego counties. It also slammed some mountain areas with sleet, snow and blizzard conditions.
Four died in a plane crash Sunday in the storm-shrouded San Gorgonio Wilderness, just hours after whiteout conditions cut off two Los Angeles-based hikers on 11,500-foot San Gorgonio Mountain. Also Sunday morning, four people died in a multi-vehicle pileup on Interstate 40 east of Barstow that included at least three bigrigs.
"Pilots need to fly within their personal flight restrictions, and people driving need to know when to slow down or pull over," said San Bernardino sheriff's Lt. Dale Gregory, who helps oversee his department's aviation unit at the foot of the Cajon Pass.
Flight crews from the Rialto base responded to several incidents in the mountains in the past few days, including a rescue of the stranded hikers and recovery of those who died in the plane crash on 10,459-foot Dobbs Peak.
Today they're bracing for more heat, winds and fire potential, Gregory said in a phone interview.
"We're staffing a second fire ship, at the request of the state," Gregory said, referring to a military-surplus helicopter equipped with tanks for dropping retardant or water loads.
"This is part of the job," Gregory said. "We have to be ready for whatever nature brings."
Helicopters, one equipped for firefighting.
On standby in Rialto, November 2007.
Photos by Guy McCarthy.
Monday, November 10, 2008
A north-facing section of Yucaipa Ridge, Monday afternoon.
By Guy McCarthy
MILL CREEK CANYON - It's wet, cold and wintry in the mountains at the moment - and recent conditions may have been deadly.
Now brace yourselves for another change.
Dry winds and possible record-breaking heat expected later this week could mean more critical fire potential in the inland foothills and valleys, according to forecasters.
Meanwhile in the San Gorgonio Wilderness today, rapidly changing weather at elevations above 10,000 feet allowed a sheriff's helicopter crew to safely rescue two hikers from Los Angeles who had been stranded by blizzard conditions.
But shifting cloud cover in the high country prevented another helicopter crew from landing a deputy and volunteers to investigate what appeared to be wreckage from a recent plane crash on 10,459-foot Dobbs Peak, about a mile west of San Gorgonio Mountain, sheriff's and forest service officials said.
"There is a plane missing out of Hesperia, reported yesterday," sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller said Monday afternoon. "But we do not have a tail number confirmation from the wreckage on Dobbs Peak. We do not know if that is the missing plane."
A sheriff's helicopter crew will attempt to land up to 10 investigators and volunteers at the reported plane crash site just after first light Tuesday morning, Miller said. Sunrise tomorrow is expected about 6:20 a.m.
"We were not able to insert anyone today because of the weather conditions," Miller said. "It was deemed not safe."
The plane reported missing out of Hesperia on Sunday afternoon had four people on board and they were returning from Baja, Miller said. She said the Sheriff's Department would not release any further information about the plane and those on board until investigators examine the reported wreckage on Dobbs Peak.
The rescued hikers, Cody Westhaimer, 29, and Josh Saxe, 27, both of Los Angeles, had intended to spend Saturday night on the 11,500-foot summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, Southern California's highest point. They were cut off from descent Sunday morning by blizzard conditions and eight to 10 inches of snow that fell overnight, according to Miller.
Westhaimer had a cell phone and sent a text message to his wife, who alerted authorities before 8 a.m. Sunday, Miller said. A helicopter crew landed a team of rescuers near the summit Sunday afternoon, and returned after dawn today. The hikers and rescuers were flown down to Mill Creek Ranger Station by 7:30 a.m.
Aside from snow, sleet and hail in the mountains, the cold front that moved across Southern California starting early Sunday also sent high winds hurling dust and sand across a vast region, from the Owens Valley to the deserts and lowlands of Riverside County.
The winds may have contributed to four deaths Sunday on Interstate 40 in San Bernardino County, though causes of the fatal, multi-vehicle pileup had not been released.
Gusting winds and sandstorms were present along I-40 before 9 a.m. Sunday, when more than a dozen vehicles crashed east of Barstow, according to the California Highway Patrol. Specific causes of the crash had not been publicly disclosed by the CHP as of Monday evening.
Four died in the pileup, including Faith V. Wilson, 66, of Fullerton, according to the San Bernardino County coroner. Wilson was a passenger in a Porsche Cayenne that got rear-ended in the multi-vehicle crash, according to the coroner.
The names of three other deceased victims had not been released, said Barstow-based CHP Officer Taj Johnson.
"There were approximately 13 vehicles involved, at least three of them were semis," Johnson said today. "Right now, even though it was windy with sandstorms out there, we don't know the exact cause. It could have been anything. Somebody not paying attention. Something other than the weather. It was mass confusion out there."
Tomorrow morning conditions may be ideal for a helicopter mission to the reported plane crash site on Dobbs Peak, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Don Atkin. The Weather Service routinely prepares a specific forecast for the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gorgonio Wilderness.
"If there are any clouds, they should be high clouds," Atkin said Monday evening. Low-lying fog or cloud bands cloaking ridges above 10,000 feet should be unlikely just after sunrise Tuesday, Atkin said.
Later this week, with dry winds and potential highs in the 90s for inland foothills and valleys, fire weather warnings and watches may be necessary, Atkin said.
"It wants to be fall going into winter, but it just can't make it," said Bill Patzert, an oceanographer and forecaster for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in La Canada Flintridge.
"Here in Southern California we're pretty behind the curve for rainfall so far," Patzert said today. "We're sticking with our forecast for a dry winter. It's good to see the mountain forests get some precip, but down here in the lowlands and chaparral we're dry as a bone.
"We're still in a race between the Santa Anas and the rain, and so far the Santa Anas have been winning."