At least eight fires are still currently burning in California, continuing a fire season that has been marked by mass evacuations and mass blackouts. Blazes fueled by high winds and dry conditions continued to ravage the state throughout the week—from Sonoma’s wine country to densely-populated Los Angeles.
However, as the Los Angeles Times reports, Firefighters have made progress containing many of the fires, making progress to contain the Maria Fire, the Easy Fire and the Kincade Fire.
One of the most recent fires, the Maria Fire began just after 6 p.m. Thursday and has burned 9,412 acres, according to fire officials. As of Friday, the fire is 20% contained.
The Associated Press reports that officials have lifted evacuation orders on Somis, Ca., a farm community in Ventura County.
The latest blaze, comes amidst concerns that power lines may have played a role in starting some of the fires. South California Edison said that it re-energized a 16,000-volt power line just a few minutes before the Maria Fire started around the same area, according to NPR. South California Edison shut down power for thousands of people this week amid concerns about the possibility of sparking wildfires. On Monday, 15,896 people had lost power. By Saturday morning, that number has gone down to 180.
Southern California Edison is not the only company deploying targeted blackouts. Last week, utility company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) admitted its own electrical equipment might be responsible for the wine country fire, according to the Associated Press. The company coordinated power outages that affected 2.3 million people across 36 counties starting last Saturday evening, the AP reported.
PG&E noted that safety patrols and equipment repairs were already underway with more than 6,300 personnel and 46 helicopters assisting in the restoration process.
California Governor Gavin Newson has publicly criticized the power companies for being negligent around possibly starting fires and for cutting power for hundreds of thousands of people. In a press conference Friday, Newsom threatened to take over PG&E if the company did not get out of bankruptcy.
“PG&E as we know it may or may not be able to figure this out. If they cannot, we are not going to sit around and be passive,” Newsom said, per CNN. “If Pacific Gas and Electric is unable to secure its own fate and future … then the state will prepare itself as backup for a scenario where we do that job for them.”
Another quick-moving wildfire destroyed homes in San Bernardino, Calif. east of Los Angeles.
The Hillside Fire began around 1:30 a.m. Thursday and destroyed six homes and damaged 18 others, local officials said during a press conference Thursday night. As of Friday, the fire has burned 628 acres and is 95% contained.
Another fire was also reported Thursday, in Jurupa Valley. As of Friday, the blaze, named 46 Fire, had consumed 300 acres and was 85% contained. The fire was caused by a car that crashed after a police chase, subsequently setting a field on fire, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The destructive wildfires prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency Oct. 27, citing destroyed structures and tens of thousands of evacuations.
“We’re deploying every resource available as we continue to respond to these fires and unprecedented high winds,” Newsom said on Twitter.
Tens of thousands of Californians have been forced to evacuate their homes and utility companies across the state cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers in an attempt to stop the spread of the fires. The fires have killed at least three people, according to California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The agency did not offer any details on the deaths.
The biggest fires this season have been Sonoma County’s Kincade Fire and Los Angeles County’s Tick Fire and Saddle Ridge Fire. Together, fires across the state have consumed more than 162,600 acres.
The map below shows live updates on the position and conditions of the California wildfires.
Here’s what to know about some of the biggest fires burning in California right now.
The Maria fire has burned through 9,412 acres as of Friday and as of Saturday morning is 20% contained. The fire began Thursday evening, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire protection. The Ventura County Fire Department said Friday morning that subsiding winds and cold temperatures had reduced the fire’s ability to move downhill fast.
As of Thursday night, the fire was moving in a southwest direction. About 7,500 Ventura County residents were under mandatory evacuation orders, a fire department spokesperson said at a press conference Thursday. On Friday, NBC Los Angeles reported that number had grown to nearly 11,000 people. About 1,800 structures were threatened by the fire.
In a press conference on Friday night, the Ventura County Fire Department said 1,300 firefighters are working to put out the blaze.
“We still have at least 24 hours of critical fire weather ahead of us,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen. “We need the community to be prepared.”
The Hillside Fire began early Thursday and has made its way into residential neighborhoods in north San Bernardino.
By Saturday, it was 95% contained after burning 494 acres, according to Cal Fire. One firefighter was transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation.
Footage from local TV news shows homes and structures engulfed in flames.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
About 490 homes—more than 1,300 people–were under mandatory evacuation, according to the San Bernardino National Forest Service. ABC7 reports evacuation orders were lifted on Friday.
San Bernardino County Firefighter Chris Prater said that authorities rushed to evacuate residents late at night, some of whom were sleeping at the time, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Kincade Fire has torn through more than 77,758 Acres acres in Sonoma County. As of Friday, the fire was 70% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At least 360 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed by the fire and another 59 have been damaged. At least four firefighters have been injured, a Cal Fire spokesperson said Monday: one received minor injuries, and another was flown to a hospital. He is in stable condition, a Cal Fire spokesperson said Tuesday morning.
More than 186,000 people were put under evacuation orders, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said last week. “This afternoon I had the chance to take a look at the fire from the air,” Essick told reporters Sunday evening. “The evacuation order was well warranted.” An additional evacuation order was issued Monday evening but many have since been lifted.
Jonathan Cox, a division chief with Cal Fire, said in a press conference on Wednesday evening that “there’s a lot of optimism—that we have turned the corner for the better on this fire.”
“The winds did not materialize to the extremes we were fearful of and that gave us a big opportunity to increase that containment overnight,” Cox said.
The fire started in a mountainous area on Oct. 23. The area’s remote and steep terrain, as well as its narrow roads, makes access to the fire difficult and slow, according to Cal Fire. The agency predicts the fire will take until Nov. 7 to be fully contained.
PG&E cut power to 970,000 customers across 38 counties last weekend. “We would only take this decision for one reason – to help reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to our customers and communities,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations. Power was restored to about 73% of the company’s 973,000 customers by Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the company said that 365,000 customers remained without power and 723,000 customers had power restored since Saturday. By the evening, only 200 customers remained without power.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but according to the AP, PG&E had reported a problem with a transmission tower near the spot where the fire started. PG&E CEO Bill Johnson has said it was too early to tell if the equipment played a role in starting the fire.
According to Cal Fire, more than 4,681 fire personnel are battling the blaze, using 15 helicopters and 418 engines and other equipment.
Jurupa Valley fire
The Jurupa Valley fire, designated 46 Fire, was first reported Thursday about 12:30 a.m, and residents in nearby areas were ordered to evacuate. Firefighters noticed a “rapid rate of spread” when they first arrived on scene.
As of friday it had burned 300 acres and was 85% contained.
The fire has already destroyed three homes and two other buildings, the Jurupa Valley Fire Department said.
More than 200 firefighters were assigned to deal with the fire.
The Easy Fire, which broke out Wednesday morning in the Simi Valley area, was dangerously close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library throughout the day. The facility was evacuated but did not face any serious damage, the Associated Press reported. The library was closed Wednesday because of the fires. Library spokeswoman Melissa Giller told the AP that the museum was safe, noting that hundreds of goats are brought in each year to eat away vegetation that could fuel wildfires.
Local authorities lifted all mandatory evacuation orders for the Easy Fire Thursday.
On Wednesday evening more than 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, which had consumed about 1,650 acres, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. The fire was 95% contained as of Friday night, according to Cal Fire. As a result of the fire, about 30,000 people were under mandatory evacuations and three firefighters had been injured, the agency stated.
Local officials said during a press conference that they knew ahead of time about the risk of a fire and stocked up on additional resources accordingly. Firefighters got to the fire and “hit it with all those resources as fast as we possibly could,” said John Spykerman, the incident commander.
As of Thursday, the fire had engulfed more than 4,600 acres and is 100% contained, according to Cal Fire. At least an estimated 50,000 residents had been under evacuation order over the weekend, but orders were lifted Sunday evening. The blaze had destroyed at least 22 structures, including residential and commercial buildings, and damaged another 27. Four firefighter injuries have been reported.
According to Cal Fire, the number of firefighting personnel battling the flame has reduced from 925 to 509 by Monday morning, using 69 engines.
Southern California Edison previously said it planned to shut off electricity for as many as 300,000 customers. As of last Friday, the utility company had already turned off power to more than 13,000 homes and businesses in Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. By Sunday morning, 373 customers were affected by power shut offs designed to prioritize public safety, but that number increased to 15,869 by Monday morning. By Tuesday morning, that number reduced again to 376 customers. And by Thursday morning, the number jumped to almost 72,924 customers. As of Saturday morning, only 180 customers were without power.
While fire crews were battling the Tick Fire, a new fire sparked in Los Angeles County on Monday. The Getty Fire began on the 405 Freeway at 1:34 a.m. on Monday.
Many evacuation orders related to the fire were lifted Thursday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted.
By Saturday morning, the fire had grown to 745 acres and is 74% contained, threatening more than 7,000 homes. As of Wednesday morning, 12 homes were destroyed and an additional five were damaged. More than 600 personnel has been deployed to fight the fire. The Los Angeles Fire Department reports five have non-life threatening injuries.
“Our goal today is to increase containment as much as possible. That is our primary objective,” Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters Tuesday morning.
Winds on Thursday with peak gusts of 30-50 mph will continue to impact the city’s wind-prone areas, the agency said.
Investigators also determined the preliminary cause of the fire—“a tree branch that broke off and subsequently landed in nearby power lines during high wind conditions.” It was an “accidental start,” they said.
The fire was raging near the famous Getty Center museum, home to more than 125,000 works of art. Getty Center officials said it was safe and secure, and would remain closed through Friday to “assist with emergency response” and in anticipation of “high winds.”
“The dedication of our staff and the professionalism of our region’s first responders was nothing short of heroic,” Getty president Jim Cuno said in a public statement. “We are deeply grateful for their courage and hard work.”
Old Water Fire
The Old Water Fire was reported Oct. 24 as a brush fire, along Old Waterman Canyon Road / Highway 18 where the San Bernardino National Forest meets the northern side of San Bernardino, Calif.
The San Bernardino County Fire Department had put in effect a “red flag warning” in the area until 5 p.m. Friday, indicating an increased risk of fire danger.
As of Friday night, the fire had engulfed 145 acres and was about 100% contained, according to Cal Fire. The department lifted its evacuation order on Friday morning, but warned residents to use caution.
Saddle Ridge Fire
The Saddle Ridge Fire burned nearly 8,800 acres over 13 days in Los Angeles County. It started Oct. 10 and was 97% contained as of Friday. The blaze killed one person and resulted in eight other injuries. It destroyed 19 homes and businesses and damaged 88 more, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Its center was near the Sylmar neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
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.
Correction, October 25
The original version of this story misstated the name of Los Angeles County’s Sheriff. It is Alex Villanueva, not Jim McDonnell.