Northern California Blaze Grows As Firefighters Prepare For New Winds | KALW

Northern California Blaze Grows As Firefighters Prepare For New Winds

Oct 28, 2019
Originally published on October 29, 2019 5:55 am

Updated at 11:50 p.m. ET

Firefighters in Northern California on Monday tried to take advantage of a break in the historically high winds whipping the region to battle the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County wine country before the another round of winds arrives in force on Tuesday.

The fire grew to 74,324 acres by Monday evening, up from 66,231 acres, but firefighters have achieved 15% containment, up from the 5% containment reported Monday morning, according to Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox.

But the new winds forecast for Tuesday have caused Pacific Gas & Electric to issue a new warning that some 605,000 customers in 29 counties could have their power shutdown in order to prevent more wildfires. The warning came even as the utility was trying to restore power to some of the 900,000 customers in Northern and Central California who were left in the dark over the weekend.

The beleaguered utility admitted Monday that its power lines may have started two small fires in the Bay Area suburb of Lafayette, about 20 miles east of San Francisco.

State firefighters were also dealing with a new threat much farther south. The Getty Fire, which ignited before dawn Monday in the hills north of Los Angeles, had ridden high winds to consume some 618 acres of land so far.

The Getty Fire burns near the Getty Center along the 405 freeway north of Los Angeles on Monday.
Gene Blevins / Reuters

The Getty Fire was only 5% contained, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a news conference Monday. He said earlier that the fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. PT, adjacent to Interstate 405 — the busiest highway in the U.S.

The fire shut down the southbound lanes of a significant chunk of the 405 freeway Monday morning, and local authorities have ordered mandatory evacuations for an area encompassing some 10,000 structures. Eight structures have been destroyed and six structures have been damaged. Social media swarmed with posts from residents telling of being rousted from their homes in the morning's wee hours — including, it appears, Los Angeles Laker LeBron James and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Getty Center, the museum in the area for which the fire is named, said Monday that it remains safe from the blaze — even if it is cloaked in the fire's eerie orange hues. Over 1100 firefighters are battling that blaze.

The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County which has burned since Wednesday evening, has destroyed 123 structures — 57 are residences — and damaged 20 other structures. More than 4,300 fire personnel are assigned to fight it.

The Kincade Fire has forced the evacuation of approximately 180,000 people in Sonoma County, according to member station KQED in San Francisco. Some people in western Sonoma county are being allowed to return to their homes but local officials are warning them to be prepared to evacuate again if the fire should flare up again due to the strong winds expected Tuesday.

When asked where the efforts are now compared to 24 hours ago, Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said firefighters are "at that cusp of cautious optimism. What we are contending with is that ping pong effect of the wind right now."

So far, there have been no reports of deaths in either fire.

Firefighters discuss how to approach the scene Sunday as the Kincade Fire tears through Healdsburg, Calif. Powerful winds fanned the flames in Northern California, creating ideal conditions for the wildfire's spread.
Josh Edelson / AFP via Getty Images

Still, even before the ignition of the Getty Fire early Monday, the sheer scale and number of wildfires confronting California — including Santa Clarita's Tick Fire — prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency Sunday.

Newsom says the state has secured funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help fight the Getty Fire as well.

"California is grateful for the ongoing support as we battle fires up and down the state in extremely severe weather conditions," Newsom said in a statement on Monday. He added, "I thank our heroic emergency responders and volunteers for their tireless, life-saving work to safeguard communities across the state."

Even before the fires are extinguished, more than a few people are pointing fingers at PG&E.

The California Public Utilities Commission--the state's energy regulators-- announced that it plans to investigate PG&E's power outages with an eye towards preventing the company from charging customers during blackouts.

George Grijalva, a resident of Windsor, near Santa Rosa, said he stayed behind to protect his home. His subdivision survived despite seeing some burnt backyards and patios.

"The problem now is PG&E," said Grijalva. "It's too big. They don't know what the left and right hand is doing half the time. I'm not sure what you replace it with."

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