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A wildfire in California’s Sonoma County has burned nearly 22,000 acres. Across the state, more than 40,000 people have fled their homes.

2019-10-25 10:56:00

Kincaid Fire
Kincaid Fire

Noah Berger/AP

  • A wildfire that ignited in Sonoma County, California on Wednesday night — dubbed the Kincade Fire — has spread across 21,900 acres.

  • Another blaze, the Tick Fire, has burned through 4,300 acres in Los Angeles County. 

  • Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) told state regulators that a broken jumper cable on one of its transmission towers may have caused the Kincade Fire, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • PG&E shut off power to hundreds of thousands of Californians twice this month in order to reduce wildfire risk amid warm, dry, windy conditions.

  • As the climate warms, California’s wildfire season is getting longer, and weather conditions that bring a high risk of wildfires are becoming more common.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A fire that ignited in Sonoma County, California, late Wednesday night has quickly torn through an estimated 21,900 acres.

Named the Kincade Fire, the blaze was 5% contained as of Friday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). Evacuation orders have been issued for the town of Geyserville, 75 miles north of San Francisco. So far, more than 2,000 people have had to leave their homes.

Powerful winds of up to 76 mph have been recorded in that area, according to the National Weather Service. The combination of these winds with dry, hot weather conditions has enabled the flames to spread quickly.

PG&E thinks the fire started at one of its transmission towers

Utility company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) told regulators on Thursday that the fire may have been caused by a broken jumper cable on one of the company’s transmission towers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kincaid Fire
Kincaid Fire

Noah Berger/AP

In a preliminary report, PG&E said it learned of the issue at 9:20 p.m. local time on Wednesday, when it responded to a problem with a 230,000-volt line that forced a power outage, according to NBC Bay Area. When PG&E crews arrived at the transmission tower, they found that Cal Fire had taped off an area at the tower’s base. Cal Fire personnel pointed out the broken jumper cable, NBC reported.

Earlier this week, PG&E preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of Californians in the northern San Francisco Bay Area, including Geyserville, where the Kincade Fire started.

That move, the second time PG&E has cut Californians’ power this month, was meant to minimize a risk that live wires could spark and start fires. That was the cause of last year’s record-breaking Camp Fire, which razed more than 18,800 structures and killed 86 people in November.

Kincaid fire
Kincaid fire

Noah Berger/AP

A 2nd fire is burning in the Santa Clarita Valley

In southern California, another fire started in the Santa Clarita Valley, to the north of Los Angeles, on Thursday morning. That blaze, called the Tick Fire, has burned 4,300 acres and was 5% contained as of Friday morning. Mandatory evacuations are in effect in the area — about 40,000 people were forced to leave their homes, and nearly 10,000 structures are threatened.

Utility company Southern California Edison shut off power to nearly 10,000 LA County residents before the Tick Fire started on Thursday, according to local news station KTLA. The outages affect 21,000 customers, though another 386,000 were warned that their homes were under consideration for shutoffs as well.

Strong Santa Ana winds in the area are heightening fire risk. The gusts blow down from neighboring mountains toward the southern California coast during the fall and winter. They’re typically fiercest in the fall, before the first rains of the season arrive. Similar winds are felt in the northern part of the state — those are technically called Diablo winds, though most residents refer to them as the Santa Anas as well.

santa ana winds 1
santa ana winds 1

Google Maps; Skye Gould/Business Insider

The Diablo winds have contributed to the Kincade Fire’s rapid spread across northern California, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

“The wind almost always brings a great surge in temperature and dry air,” he said.

The connection between climate change and wildfires

Individual wildfires can’t be directly attributed to climate change, but accelerated warming increases their likelihood.

“Climate change, with rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation patterns, is amplifying the risk of wildfires and prolonging the season,” the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a July release.

Exceptionally hot and dry conditions, the organization added, create ideal conditions for wildfires across North America. That’s because warming leads winter snow to melt sooner, and hotter air sucks away the moisture from trees and soil, leading to dryer land. Decreased rainfall also makes for parched forests that are prone to burning.

Kincaid Fire
Kincaid Fire

Noah Berger/AP

That warming trend is especially apparent this year. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and 2019 overall is on pace to be the third-hottest on record globally, according to Climate Central

“It’s not just California — we are having more large, high-intensity fires in many parts of the world,” Keith Gilless, a professor in the forestry program at the University of California, Berkeley, previously told Business Insider. These increases in size and intensity are at least partially due to climate change, he added.

This summer, swaths of the Arctic from Siberia to Greenland burned so intensely that the blazes could be seen from space. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service said its team observed more than 100 intense and long-lasting fires in the Arctic Circle between June and August.

California fires are getting bigger, and the fire season getting longer

Large wildfires in the US now burn more than twice the area they did in 1970. A recent study found that the portion of California that burns from wildfires every year has increased more than five-fold since 1972. 

Nine of the 10 biggest fires in the state’s history have occurred since the year 2003.

biggest fires in california history chart
biggest fires in california history chart

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

“No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear,” climatologist Park Williams told Columbia University’s Center for Climate and Life. “Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns.”

Wildfire season in the western US getting longer, too: The average wildfire season is 78 days longer there than it was 50 years ago, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. That too, is related to climate change, because dying trees and vegetation are drying out (and becoming more available to burn) earlier in the year than they used to.

Kincaid Fire
Kincaid Fire

Noah Berger/AP

“We’re really seeing that window expanding, not only earlier into the spring but also later into the fall as things stay drier, longer,” Leah Quinn-Davidson, a fire adviser for Humboldt County, previously told Business Insider. “We are at the point where we are in a crisis.”

NOW WATCH: Here’s how firefighters suck up water to dump from helicopters




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