Severe winds leaves two dead, 50,000 without power in San Francisco area

(Reuters) - The San Francisco area was hammered by strong winds that knocked down trees and power lines on Thursday, leaving at least 2 people dead and more than 50,000 without power in California.

Wind gusts, some in excess of 50 miles per hour, were driven by a storm system that hit arid parts of the state to the south, according to the National Weather Service.

In Oakland, a city of roughly 400,000 outside of San Francisco, a car struck a fallen tree, killing an occupant in the vehicle at roughly 8:30 p.m., police said. Another person was killed, though the exact cause of death was unclear, after a power line was knocked down to street level.

Some 30,900 people were without power in Oakland, 5,500 in Nice, 7,000 in Monte Rio, 5,000 in Santa Rosa, 4,000 in Sonoma, 4,000 in Berkeley, and thousands more in other areas in the West Coast state, according to a tally by Pacific Gas and Electric Company early on Friday morning.

The Napa County Sheriff's Office ordered an unknown number of people evacuated after a fallen power line sparked a wildfire that grew to between 100 and 200 acres, a dispatcher said.

Rich Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the wind had knocked down trees and a wind advisory warning remained in place for parts of the Bay Area.

"There may have been some gusts in the 50- and 55-miles-per-hour range closer to the coast, but the very strongest winds, including one gust of 120 miles per hour, were in the high terrain of the Sierra Nevada (mountains)," Thompson said.

Winds were likely close to peak strength at about 9 p.m. local time though they would gradually subside later on Friday in most areas.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)