27 Oct California Fire Updates: Emergency Declared as Residents Fl…
The governor has declared a state of emergency.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California declared a state of emergency on Sunday, saying the high winds that have been fueling the blazes in the state were “unprecedented” and pleading with people in evacuation zones to flee.
The Kincade fire, the largest of more than a dozen wildfires now active up and down the state, has burned more than 30,000 acres since Wednesday night in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, and was only 10 percent contained on Sunday. Local authorities have ordered more than 180,000 people to evacuate from its path.
“We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires,” Mr. Newsom said, noting that more than 3,000 firefighters were battling the Kincade fire alone.
Nearly 1,000 more firefighters are working to contain the Tick fire in Southern California, which was burning more than 4,600 acres on Sunday morning and threatening thousands of homes in Los Angeles County.
At least three new vegetation fires were sparked on Sunday, one covering 600 acres in Tehama County, 100 miles north of the Kincade fire, and one affecting 200 acres near Vallejo in the Bay Area, where embers apparently jumped about a mile across the Carquinez Strait to start another blaze on the far side. That fire threatened the campus of the California State University Maritime Academy.
Californians far beyond the immediate areas of the fires are being affected, as one of the state’s main power utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric, has shut off power to nearly 1 million homes and businesses to prevent its lines and equipment from sparking new fires in the dry, windy conditions. Many people who fled the Kincade fire were leaving behind dark houses where the electricity had already been shut off.
“It is critical that people in evacuation zones heed the warnings from officials and first responders, and have the local and state resources they need as we fight these fires,” Mr. Newsom said.
About 180,000 people have been ordered to evacuate.
Emergency responders greatly expanded a mandatory evacuation zone on Sunday morning, more than doubling the number of residents who have been told to flee the Kincade fire north of San Francisco.
The expanded evacuation zone now covers about 180,000 people, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said. “This is the largest evacuation that any of us at the Sheriff’s Office can remember,” the office wrote on Twitter. All residents who had previously been under an evacuation warning have now been ordered to flee.
The wind continues to plague firefighters who are trying to beat back the raging blaze. Winds gusting higher than 80 miles an hour are sending embers up to a mile away, leading to spot fires that can quickly grow if they are not extinguished, especially in extremely dry conditions, officials said. A gust was clocked at 93 m.p.h. in Sonoma County.
“We’ve got rates of spread that are extremely dangerous at this point, with erratic fire behavior,” said Capt. Stephen Volmer, a fire behavior analyst at Cal Fire, the state firefighting and fire prevention agency.
The possibility that the fire could jump across U.S. Highway 101 and rapidly move west is a growing fear for firefighters, given that there is more fuel and less recent experience with wildfires on that side of the highway, making the fire’s course more difficult to predict.
“That area hasn’t seen any fire history since the 1940s,” Captain Volmer said, adding that the vegetation in that area is extremely dense, old and dry.
The Kincade fire, which began late Wednesday night, has destroyed 79 buildings, including 31 homes, and damaged 14 more. No serious injuries have been reported.
About 90 to 95 percent of people in the mandatory evacuation zones are fleeing, said Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. He said deputies would not force people out of their homes or arrest them if they refused to follow the evacuation order, but that “they will be on their own in the event of an emergency.”
Power shut-offs have begun that could affect nearly 3 million.
The number of customers who will have their power cut off preventively by Pacific Gas & Electric keeps rising. On Sunday morning, the utility said it had cut power to 940,000 homes and businesses across Northern California to keep the company’s lines and equipment from sparking additional fires, and that 20,000 more would have their power cut in the coming days. That would leave nearly 3 million people intentionally without power, in the largest planned blackout to prevent wildfires in California’s history.
The company was also dealing with unplanned outages caused by high winds, but said it did not have a tally of how many customers were affected by those problems.
PG&E has faced heavy criticism from lawmakers and citizens, who say the company’s infrastructure ought to be able to handle California’s windy weather and continue providing electricity to paying customers without causing fires.
Paul Doherty, a PG&E spokesman, urged customers not to take out their frustrations on field workers, at least one of whom reported that his vehicle had been shot at by someone with a pellet gun.
“We understand it’s difficult,” Mr. Doherty said. “We just ask for our customers and general public to be kind. We just ask their continued patience.”
He said workers from as far away as Florida and Canada had responded to the company’s request for 1,000 extra utility workers to assist with its growing fire prevention effort.
The authorities in several counties implored residents not to call 911 when their lights go out. The sheriff’s office in Marin, where 99 percent of residents were expected to lose electricity, said the county’s emergency dispatch system was already flooded with calls.
Public safety officials warned…