California wildfires: State of emergency as wine country blaze forces out 100,000 people and millions lose power

Electricity firm to cut power amid reports broken infrastructure may have sparked at least one outbreak

Colin Drury,Dave Maclean
Sunday 27 October 2019 19:25
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California wildfires spread prompting evacuation of 50,000 people

California governor Gavin Newsom has declared a statewide emergency as firefighters race against time to cut defensive lines against a wildfire in Sonoma County’s wine country, where 50,000 people have been evacuated as ‘historic winds’ whip up the flames.

The Kincade Fire now stretches across 25,000 acres in the steep terrain north of San Francisco, while a second, smaller Tick Fire has charred suburban Los Angeles. Around three million people across more than 35 counties across the state have had their power cut off as a precaution.

Mr Newsom tweeted: "I have declared a statewide emergency. We’re deploying every resource available as we continue to respond to these fires and unprecedented high-winds. If you live in an affected area, please stay safe, alert, and heed all warnings from local officials."

More than 2,000 firefighters are battling the Kincade Fire, which is only 10% contained and has destroyed around 50 structures.

A ‘red flag’ warning is in place from the National Weather Service; low-humidity has dried out plants and trees making the conditions ripe for a fast-moving wildfire.

Winds are expected to pick up this evening, reaching peak intensity late at night into Sunday, with sustained winds of 55mph and gusts of 80mph.

Jeremy Grams, lead forecaster at the federal Storm Prediction Center, said: “Any ongoing fires or any new fire starts will have the opportunity to spread very rapidly.”

The cause of the fire is still being probed but officials fear it may have been triggered by a damaged high-voltage transmission tower owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Corp.

The company – which had to fork out $1bn (£788m) earlier this year for its role in last year’s deadly state fires – said normal service may not resume until Monday.

The evacuation of 50,000 people in Windsor and Healdsburg was ordered by 4pm local time.

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The blaze is encroaching on wineries including that owned by "The Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola.

A brief lull in winds on Saturday allowed authorities to dispatch several planes and helicopters to fight the Kincade Fire.

Among the planes attacking the blaze was a Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT), which can carry more than 8,000 gallons (30,000 litres) of fire retardant.

Two residents of Geyserville and a firefighter were injured on Friday evening, when they had to crawl into an emergency fire shelter to protect against quickly advancing flames. No deaths have yet been reported.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has blamed the utility for decades of lacklustre investment in its infrastructure that he says make its protective blackouts larger than they need to be.

The Tick and Kincade fires have worsened air quality in Los Angeles, San Francisco and areas around those two large cities.

In LA's San Fernando Valley, which is just south of the Tick Fire, officials closed all public schools on Friday, giving thousands of students the day off, because of poor air quality.

At its peak, the Tick Fire burning in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles had forced the evacuation of about 50,000 people. It has destroyed at least nine structures since erupting from an unknown cause on Thursday and has been 25% contained, officials said on Saturday. No injuries have been reported.

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