LOS ANGELES — A fast-growing wildfire ignited Wednesday in Simi Valley, California, forcing 30,000 people to flee while officials allowed thousands of Kincade Fire evacuees to return home in the northern part of the state.
In Simi Valley, a Ventura County city of 125,000 about 40 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the new blaze dubbed the Easy Fire consumed about 1,650 acres. Crews had no containment by the evening, and the fire was threatening 7,000 buildings.
“Extreme” red flag warnings were expected to persist into Thursday night, bringing the potential for “rapid fire spread” and “extreme fire behavior,” according to the National Weather Service.
The fire came dangerously close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, spokeswoman Melissa Giller said, but was saved by a shift in the winds – and the work of goats brought in every year to create a fire break by chewing through vegetation surrounding the complex. About 1,000 firefighters also battled the blaze on the ground while helicopters and airplanes attacked with water drops from above.
The area’s energy provider, Southern California Edison, acknowledged later in the day the Easy Fire broke out near its equipment northwest of Los Angeles, although a cause of the blaze has not yet been ascertained.
In Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, subsiding winds aided firefighters battling the Kincade Fire. Officials lifted mandatory evacuation orders, allowing all but about 6,000 people to return home. The 76,825-acre fire had forced 200,000 people to flee after “Diablo” winds conspired with dry conditions.
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The wildfire had destroyed more than 260 buildings, including a 150-year-old winery, and was 45% contained by Wednesday night. Emergency officials warned about 60,000 people to be prepared to evacuate if conditions change, but Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathan Cox said crews are optimistic.
“We can’t let our guard down … but the confidence level has gone way up in the past 24 hours,” Cox said.
In Los Angeles County, fire officials also lifted some evacuation orders for the Getty Fire, which had forced residents of more than 7,000 homes to flee earlier in the week. Containment was at 27%.
The 745-acre wildfire near the Getty Museum started accidentally, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart, when high winds blew a tree branch onto nearby power lines.
“This errant tree branch caused the sparking and arcing of the power lines, igniting nearby brush,” Stewart said.
The winds sweeping across California have been blamed for three deaths. The Madera County Sheriff’s Office said the bodies of Edward and Iva Poulson were found Monday in their Jeep after a tree toppled onto the vehicle in high winds. And the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that a homeless woman died Sunday after being crushed by a tree toppled by high winds.
Elderly patients at a health care facility were rushed out in wheelchairs and gurneys amid thick smoke as a wildfire charred more than 200 acres in Riverside County’s Jurupa Valley, east of Los Angeles.
Preemptive power shutoffs also weren’t over for nearly a million Northern and Central California residents. Pacific Gas & Electric turned off power in 22 counties Tuesday, marking its fourth shutoff this month and third in the last week.
The company said Wednesday it had started restoring power to many of the affected areas after the strong winds expected overnight did not materialize, but approximately 132,500 people still didn’t have electricity by 10 p.m., the utility said.
Southern California Edison cut off power for another 206,000 people – mainly in Ventura and Los Angeles counties – on Tuesday night.
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The shutoffs, designed to reduce the risk of utility equipment sparking wildfires during strong wind events, have drawn criticism from residents and public officials.
PG&E on Tuesday yielded to pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom by announcing it will issue a bill credit for customers affected by the first shutoff this month. Residential customers will see a $100 credit in the next billing cycle and businesses will get $250, the utility said. Credits will not be issued for the subsequent shutoffs, PG&E said, because the company worked to improve how it notified customers.
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The utility is also facing scrutiny amid Cal Fire’s investigation into the Kincade Fire’s origin. PG&E acknowledged last week a live, 230,000-volt transmission line malfunctioned minutes before the fire erupted Wednesday night.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Easy Fire roars near Los Angeles; Kincade Fire at 45% containment