Millions Of Californians Brace For Power Outages As Wildfires Ravage State

2019-10-25 20:04:31

As multiple fires burn across California and strong winds are projected to blow over the weekend, utility companies across the state are cutting power and projecting further outages that could affect millions in an attempt to prevent more blazes. 

In Northern California, the rapidly growing Kincade fire — which has been burning since late Wednesday in Sonoma County’s wine country — had grown to nearly 22,000 acres, destroyed at least 49 structures and was only 5% percent contained as of Friday. 

Meanwhile, in Southern California, the Tick fire in Los Angeles had spread to more than 4,000 acres as of Friday and led to the evacuation of around 50,000 people around Santa Clarita. And two separate, smaller fires started in San Diego County on Friday, leading to more evacuations. 

The National Weather Service warned of “extremely critical” fire weather conditions in Southern California on Friday. It also predicted the coming of strong Santa Ana winds starting Sunday, spurring potentially more dangerous fire-fueling weather. And in Northern California, the Bay Area is expecting potentially “historic” levels of wind over the weekend. The agency issued a “fire weather watch” for Saturday to Monday, noting that winds were expected to be the strongest in the area since the 2017 deadly fires in Sonoma.

Electric utility PG&E in Northern California warned of potential blackouts that could affect more than 2 million people across the region, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. A PG&E map shows that most of its coverage areas are on “watch” for potential shutoffs to avoid more fires starting Saturday, with the areas affected by shutoffs expected to increase on Sunday and continuing into Monday. 

Further south, Southern California Edison already had power shut off to over 14,000 customers as of Friday afternoon, largely in LA and San Bernardino counties. The utility’s website warned of potential shutoffs to over 130,000 more customers. And in San Diego, which had two new fires start on Friday, the utility had cut power to over 5,000 customers by the afternoon.

California has been experiencing record-breaking wildfires in recent years. Earlier this month, three people died and dozens of homes were destroyed in two fires in Southern California. 

Some of the state’s worst wildfires ― including the Camp fire, California’s deadliest ever, which killed 85 people in Paradise last year ― were sparked when damaged PG&E power lines came into contact with nearby vegetation. Earlier this month, PG&E caused outrage after a blackout it implemented to prevent fires left about 2 million residents without power. 

“Let’s be real—in 2019, no community in America should be forced to endure an intentional blackout because an outdated electrical grid threatens to spark a devastating fire,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Friday.

The presidential candidate noted that climate change is “exacerbating conditions” for fires in the state, but placed blame for the current situation of widespread outages on “years of poor planning and misplaced priorities on the part of PG&E.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) slammed the utility’s ”decades of greed and mismanagement,” which he said led to the recent widespread shutoffs and those potentially to come.

Gov. Gavin Newsom surveys a home destroyed in the Kincade fire on Oct. 25, 2019, in Geyserville, California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom surveys a home destroyed in the Kincade fire on Oct. 25, 2019, in Geyserville, California.

Here’s the latest information on fires burning across the state: 

The Kincade Fire In Northern California 

The Kincade fire in Sonoma County wine country more than doubled in size from Thursday to Friday, ballooning to 21,500 acres as of early Friday. The fire, which was only 5% contained, destroyed at least 49 structures and forced officials to issue evacuation orders to about 2,000 people in the surrounding area. 

The fire blazed just a 30-minute drive north of Santa Rosa, where a wildfire burned thousands of homes and killed 44 people two years ago this month ― the deadliest wildfire in California at the time.

“It’s only been two years since the fires that devastated our community, and for many, this will be a very stressful and anxious time,” Sonoma County Sherriff Mark Essick said Thursday.

The cause of the blaze is currently under investigation by Cal Fire. However, PG&E told state regulators that a high-voltage transmission tower that had not yet been turned off in a planned power outage broke near the origin point of the fire about the time it started. 

Newsom issued a state of emergency proclamation for Sonoma County late Thursday.  

The Tick Fire In Los Angeles County

The fire ― which started Thursday afternoon in Santa Clarita, just north of the city of Los Angeles ― had blazed through 4,300 acres and burned multiple structures by Friday morning. Authorities said at least 50,000 people have been ordered to evacuate in the region. 

Newsom issued a state of emergency proclamation regarding the Tick fire late Thursday.

Two Fires In San Diego County

The Sawday fire started Friday morning, and had burned almost 100 acres and was only 15% contained by the afternoon. About 170 people were evacuated in the area around Witch Creek, about an hour and a half’s drive from the city of San Diego.

Meanwhile, the Miller fire, which started Friday afternoon, had burned about 37 acres as of 4 p.m. local time and had provoked limited evacuations about an hour outside the city of San Diego.

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