On Fire And In The Dark, California Braces For More Dangerous Winds

2019-10-29 16:39:24

California is on fire and in the dark, and Tuesday’s dangerous wind forecasts offer little hope that either of those conditions will soon change.

Firefighters have responded to a shocking 330 wildfires in just a period of 24 hours, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Monday morning, speaking to the ease with which blazes start in tinder-dry conditions with low humidity and gusty winds. Ten of those blazes are considered major incidents

The biggest fires have forced thousands of evacuations, sending more than 2,800 people to 20 Red Cross shelters on Monday night, the organization confirmed. Meanwhile, over 1 million residents are without power as the state’s utility companies shut off power lines that pose a risk of sparking fires.

Here’s the latest on the two most dangerous wildfires: one raging in wine country and the other in Los Angeles. 

Kincade Fire

The massive Kincade fire burning in Sonoma County, home to some of California’s most beloved vineyards and wineries, had burned more than 75,000 acres by Tuesday and was just 15% contained after growing larger overnight on its eastern edge. 

Since last Wednesday, when it started, the fast-moving blaze has destroyed 124 structures, damaged 23 others and threatened around 90,000 more, according to the latest numbers from the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

The department has confirmed injuries to one fire personnel and one civilian. No deaths or missing persons have been reported yet. 

A structure burns in the wind-driven Kincade fire in Healdsburg, California, on Sunday.

A structure burns in the wind-driven Kincade fire in Healdsburg, California, on Sunday.

The weather forecast for the next 24 hours does not bode well. Speaking at a press conference Tuesday morning, a National Weather Service official said residents should brace for a “challenging afternoon and evening” as 30-40 mph winds pick up in the area, though officials expect they’ll die down overnight.

“Today is probably not going to be a good day to talk about repopulation as far as good news,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said of evacuated residents hoping to return to their homes. 

Officials expect winds to die down after Wednesday for several days.

The feeling is all too familiar to Sonoma County residents who lived through the deadly Tubbs fire just two years ago. Santa Rosa resident Mellissa Edney lost her home then, and she just moved back into her rebuilt house last week with her husband and two young kids. The family still has power at home and did not evacuate even though they’re under mandatory evacuation orders. 

I can’t go through this again. I just can’t.
Santa Rosa resident Mellissa Edney

“I honestly thought we were beginning to put the fear of 2017 behind us as we looked forward to raising our kids in our new home, and once the reality of losing that again became very real, the trauma that we experienced in 2017 came back to me,” she told HuffPost on Tuesday. “I told my husband, David, that I can’t go through this again. I just can’t.”

The fire comes despite efforts by the region’s utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric, to prevent fires on its power lines and transformers by shutting off power to 970,000 households and businesses, affecting millions of people. 

By Tuesday morning, PG&E had restored power to 59% of those customers. But the company is planning another outage Tuesday that will affect a total of 596,000 customers across 29 counties.

A building burns Thursday during the Kincade fire in Geyserville, California.

A building burns Thursday during the Kincade fire in Geyserville, California.

Getty Fire

In Los Angeles County, the smaller but still devastating Getty fire shows few signs of slowing down as gusty winds are forecasted to pick up Tuesday night.

The Los Angeles Fire Department, which is managing the blaze, said Tuesday morning that the fire had spread across 656 acres and was 5% contained since starting early Monday morning. The affected area is west of Interstate 405.

LeBron James, a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, said early Monday morning that his family had evacuated the area, as did former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

So far, eight residences have been destroyed and six have been damaged, though more than 7,000 are in the evacuation zone. 

The Getty fire burns along Interstate 405 north of Los Angeles on Monday.

The Getty fire burns along Interstate 405 north of Los Angeles on Monday.

All eyes are on the forecast promising 60-70 mph Santa Ana winds in the area, which are expected to amplify the “remarkable and dangerous event,” the National Weather Service said Tuesday morning.  

“People will not be returning to their homes this evening,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a Tuesday morning press conference, referencing the winds. 

“As we’ve seen in Northern California and experienced in past fires here, those can pick up and transfer the fire miles away sometimes,” he warned. 

LAPD fire chief Ralph Terrazas did not downplay that possibility.

“It only takes one ember to blow downwind and start another fire,” he said at the press conference. “Embers have been known to travel several miles, so we’re very concerned about tonight’s wind event.”

Southern California Edison, the region’s utility provider, has also rolled out forced power outages. 25,000 people in the region were without power Monday night, but nearly all regained it by Tuesday morning. However, the company said around 200,000 customers were at risk of blackouts in the coming days.

Though authorities have not commented on the cause of the Getty fire, sources familiar with a probe into its origins told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that investigators were examining utility lines along Interstate 405 managed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

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