A rapid forest fire forced evacuations of 60,000 people in Southern California on Monday as strong winds across the state forced power to be cut down to hundreds of thousands to prevent auxiliary tools from triggering new flames.
The smoky fire exploded in size to 2,000 acres within hours of the eruption shortly after dawn in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. Strong gusts of wind pushed flames along brushed ridges in Silverado Canyon toward homes in the town of Irvine, where there are about 280,000 people.
Kelsey Brewer and her three roommates decided to leave their townhouse before the evacuation order came in. The question was where to go in the pandemic. They decided on her boyfriend’s mother, who has ample space and lives alone.
“We literally talked about it this morning,” Brewer said, adding that she feels lucky to have a safe place to go. “We can only imagine how everyone else feels screwed. There is nowhere you can go to feel safe. ”
The cause of the fire is not immediately known.
More than 300,000 electricity customers – estimated at approx. 1 million people – were in the dark in the northern part of the state when officials warned of what could be the strongest winds in California this year. About 5,000 customers lost power Monday in Southern California.
Firefighters who had been ready overnight quickly contained small flames that erupted Sunday in Northern California’s Sonoma and Shasta counties. The causes were investigated.
North of San Francisco, a Mount St.Helena weather station recorded an 89 mph windstorm late Sunday and sustained winds of 76 mph (122 km / h). Some Sierra Nevada peaks recorded gusts well above 100 mph (161 mph).
“The closures probably prevented dangerous fires last night. It’s almost impossible to imagine that winds of this magnitude would not have triggered major burns in recent years, ”said Daniel Swain, climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on Twitter.
The winds had calmed down slightly by Monday, but still peaked at 97 km / h, and the strong winds and dry conditions were expected to prevail through Tuesday. Another round of strong gusts is expected to sweep through the same areas Monday night, the National Weather Service warned. Officials extended a warning of extreme fire with a red flag through 6 p.m. 17 Tuesday for the eastern and northern mountainous areas of the region.
Researchers have said that climate change has made California very dry, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable. October and November are traditionally the worst months for fires, but already this year, 8,600 forest fires in the state have burned a record-breaking 6,400 square kilometers (16,600 square kilometers) and destroyed about 9,200 homes, businesses and other buildings. There have been 31 deaths.
Power outages marked the fifth time this year that Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest utility, has cut off power to customers to reduce the risk of broken or contaminated power lines or other equipment that can ignite fires in bone-dry weather and gusty winds.
On Sunday, the utility turned off the power to 225,000 customers in Northern California and later did so for an additional 136,000 customers in 36 counties.
“This event is by far the biggest we’ve experienced this year, the most extreme weather,” said Aaron Johnson, the utility’s vice president of fire safety and public engagement. “We’re trying to find ways to make events less difficult.”
The conditions could be similar to those during devastating fires in California’s wine country in 2017 and last year’s Kincade Fire that destroyed Sonoma County north of San Francisco in October last year, the National Weather Service said. Fire officials said PG&E transmission lines triggered the fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes and forced nearly 100,000 people to flee.
Extreme fire hazard moved into Southern California late Sunday after cooler temperatures and cloudy rain over the weekend. A peak north of Los Angeles recorded a gust of 156 km / h.
The Edison tool in Southern California cut off power to 5,000 customers on Monday, saying it was considering preventative power outages for another 122,000 customers in six counties later Monday, with San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles potentially most affected.
Los Angeles County officials urged residents to sign up for emergency evacuation notices and be prepared to stay with family or friends in less-risk areas. Local fire authorities increased staffing as a precaution.
Winds of up to 35 km / h (56 km / h) at lower altitudes and more than 70 km / h (113 km / h) in mountainous areas were reported Monday in Southern California, the National Weather Service said. Officials were concerned that any spark could become flames sweeping through the dry brush and woodland.
Many of this year’s devastating fires were started by thousands of dry lightning strikes, but some remain under investigation for possible electrical causes. While the largest fires in California have been completely or significantly contained, more than 5,000 firefighters remain committed to 20 flames, state fire officials said.
PG&E officials said the planned interruptions are a precautionary measure and understood that they are burdening residents, especially with many people working from home, and their children taking lessons online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sheriff Kory Honea of Northern California’s Butte County, where a 2018 fire destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 84 people, said he is concerned about residents at the foot of communities during blackouts because mobile service may be tainted, and it is only way many stay informed when the power is out.
“It’s a big burden for them to have to go through these over and over and over again,” he said.