A fast-moving wildfire has forced about 2,000 residents in northern California’s Sonoma County out of their homes, as intense winds fanned flames southward and tens of thousands were left without power. Meanwhile, southern California is facing separate intense fires as some 40,000 people have been ordered to evacuate in areas north of Los Angeles.
Wildfire expands to 10,000 acres
The Kincade Fire sparked in a mountainous area in Sonoma County. The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit of Cal Fire reported around 4 a.m. local time that the fire had burned around 10,000 acres and was 0% contained.
According to the National Weather Service, the area around the blaze is seeing severe fire weather. Sustained winds were blowing north at roughly 50 mph, with gusts as high as 76 mph. Matt Mehle, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Los Angeles Times that cameras and satellite data showed what firefighters call “rapid rates of spread” that could lead to “potentially extreme fire behavior.”
The cause of the blaze has not been identified.
Soaring temperatures and high winds have made much of California prone to fire danger this week. Almost 28,000 have lost power in parts of Sonoma County, and electric services company Southern California Edison predicts that more than 308,000 customers across seven counties, including Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange, could experience blackouts on Thursday, according to the Times.
The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced on Wednesday that “power may need to be turned off for safety to 184,000 customers.”
The company had previously cut power for hundreds of thousands of Californians for days less than two weeks ago, causing anxiety and frustration for many. PG&E and other utility companies have been scrutinized for their role in starting wildfires.
Television stations, including CBS News, reported from the frontlines of the blaze Thursday, explaining that gusty winds have made it harder for firefighters to combat the flames. “This is a rural area. We have heard crying cattle caught in these flames,” said correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti. “The big concern is these flames making it into bigger populations and bigger communities.”
Thousands evacuated in northern Sonoma County
Officials in Northern California ordered the evacuations as a wildfire expanded more than 15 square miles, according to the Associated Press. Geyserville, a community of around 900 people in Sonoma County, was one of the places evacuated. The area is a popular wine stop for tourists and residents, the AP reported.
“If you live near #KincadeFire and you receive an evacuation notice — you need to move,” tweeted state Sen. Mike McGuire at around 12:20 a.m. local time.
The Geyserville Fire Department posted a video late Wednesday night on Facebook with officials looking towards a blaze burning northwest into Cloverdale Geysers Road area. In the video, an official notes that the fire is moving at a “dangerous rate of speed” and urging locals to heed evacuation warnings.
Nancy Aguirre, 16, arrived at the Windsor High School evacuation center after leaving her home on Chalk Hill Road, south of Healdsburg, with her mother and brother, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. “The flames were like very, very close, only a couple of miles away,” Aguirre told the Chronicle, “and there were really, really strong winds.” She said her father stayed behind to help their neighbors.
Southern California battles separate blazes
Separate wildfires have also broken out in Southern California.
According to the AP, at least 40,000 people have been evacuated in areas north of Los Angeles as dry winds fan flames.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby says there is no containment of two blazes that are threatening communities in the Santa Clarita area. No injuries were immediately reported, per AP.
Governor strongly condemns utility companies
California Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized PG&E and other utility companies in a press conference about the wildfire Thursday morning, saying that “they will be held to account” and “they better step up.”
“It’s more than just climate change,” Newsom said. As it relates to PG&E, he said, it’s about “decades of mismanagement” and “focusing on shareholders and dividends” over the public. Newsom said that at least 178,000 customers had already been impacted by PG&E’s power disruptions.
He criticized other utility companies too, saying that the state has been meeting with Edison and SDG for “close to a year now” working to “[lay] out protocols… and they’re not meeting those protocols.”
“It is infuriating beyond words,” Newsom continued, “to be living in an environment where we are seeing this kind of disruption and these kinds of blackout. He added that the companies were potentially “putting the lives of millions of Californians at risk” by preventing access to critical care “or even water in some cases.”
Newsom also said that the state has, in 2019, invested at least $1 billion to address public safety issues related to wildfires.
A history of wildfires
Around this time two years ago, the region currently affected by the fire saw the destruction of thousands of homes as the devastating Tubbs Fire tore through the valleys, burning thousands of structures and killing at least 22.
The region is bracing itself for more adverse weather as experts predict that the greatest fire potential will occur October through December as the Santa Ana winds pick up.
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