California wildfires: fierce winds may spread blazes as millions lose power Mario Koran in Santa Rosa, Vivian Ho in Oakland and agencies
Millions of Californians prepared for days of darkness as the United States’ largest utility once again said it was switching off power to prevent powerful winds from damaging its equipment and sparking more fires.
Meanwhile, firefighters were battling wildfires across the state on Tuesday, as winds were expected to pick up again. The Kincade fire in Sonoma county, in the north, had destroyed 124 homes and other structures by Tuesday morning and was threatening 90,000 structures. Crews were also working to control a fierce fire near the Getty Museum in Los Angeles that had prompted evacuations on Monday.
“I know this moment generates a tremendous amount of anxiety,” California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, said on Monday about the two major blazes.
Strong winds were expected to complicate firefighting efforts on Tuesday. “The worst of this [weather] is coming later today and tonight,” said Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, early on Tuesday.
“The winds in the south will really pick up, 50 to 70mph, with some gusts up to 80mph in the Los Angeles mountain area.”
The so-called Santa Ana winds in the south could hit their worst levels of the season and last into late Thursday, Chenard said, adding that northern California will not be spared either.
Until at least Wednesday, in the bone-dry wine country about 70 miles north of San Francisco, winds will hit up to 65mph in the mountain areas and 35mph in the valleys and coast, he said.
Given the strong winds, authorities said at a press conference that many evacuees will probably be unable to return home today.
The latest blackout by Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation (PG&E) started early on Tuesday and was expected to ultimately affect 605,000 customers, about 1.5 million people. The announcement came even before the last blackout had ended, which shut off power to more than 2.5 million people. It was unclear if power that for many went out Saturday would be restored before the next round of outages.
What was clear was that patience was wearing thin and frustration at the utility was growing. From the suburbs of San Francisco up north to the wine country, people searched for places on Monday to charge phones and stocked up on ice for the non-perishable food.