Millions in California are under red flag warnings as fires burn across the state
With California already battling several wildfires that have displaced tens of thousands of people, powerful winds are expected to sweep the state and potentially worsen the situation Tuesday through Thursday, prompting utilities to plan to preemptively cut power to even more customers.
More than 26 million people from California to Arizona are under red flag warnings Tuesday — meaning winds, temperatures and humidity are ripe for fire danger — as firefighters deal with blazes already burning in California’s wine country and in the Los Angeles area.
The threats include:
• A “remarkable and dangerous” Santa Ana winds event in Southern California — perhaps the strongest this season — is expected to bring gusts of 60-70 mph in the valleys and up to 80 mph in the mountains from Tuesday night into Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Los Angeles said.
• Strong winds Tuesday afternoon in Northern California, with gusts up to 50 mph, the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center says.
The warning areas include the cities of Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
The worsening conditions come as firefighters across the state battle at least 10 wildfires that have combined to leave thousands of people under evacuation orders.
Northern California: The Kincade Fire
The Kincade Fire, the state’s largest active wildfire, has scorched more than 75,000 acres in and around Northern California’s Sonoma County since last week.
Firefighters have contained only 15% of the blaze, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s fire map.More than 100 structures have been destroyed, another 20 have been damaged.
The fire started October 23 and quickly spread, an incident report from Cal Fire said.
Driven by hurricane-force winds, the fire grew at a rate of one football field every three seconds when it first ignited, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
Up to 186,000 residents were under evacuation orders. Mandatory evacuation notices have been downgraded in some zones to evacuation warnings and repopulation efforts in some areas the fire has already charred are underway, officials told CNN Tuesday morning. However, parts of Lake County were issued new evacuation warnings Monday night.
Fire officials are hopeful the fire can be contained by November 7 but caution that it could take months for the fires to be completely out.
“We tentatively believe the fire will be contained November 7th, again that is our best estimate based on models and projections,” Cal Fire spokesman Jonathan Cox said. “As far as when every smoking stump may be extinguished, that could be weeks if not months.”
Two first responders have been hospitalized because of burns during the Kincade Fire, officials said. Cox said one person suffered a serious burn injury and was flown to UC Davis Medical Center, and a second person was treated at a local hospital for a minor burn.
Southern California: The Getty Fire
To the south, in Los Angeles County, crews are battling the Getty Fire, which has charred more than 600 acres. The fire is currently 5% contained while more than 20,000 people remain under evacuation order, the Los Angeles County Fire Department told CNN Tuesday morning.
Eight residences have been destroyed and six have been damaged but at least 10,000 residences remain threatened by the fire.
Areas of Southern California are expected to be under a red flag warning Tuesday night through Thursday afternoon as winds gust through the region. The wind event has the potential to be the strongest Santa Ana wind event so far this season, according to the National Weather Service.
At least 16 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will remain closed Tuesday because of fire conditions, a news release from the district said. Transportation to and from the schools will be canceled and absences will not be counted against students’ records, the release said.
Around 40 miles north, the Tick Fire continues to burn over 4,600 acres but had reached around 82% containment as of Monday night, according to the Cal Fire incident map. The fire started Thursday and quickly grew to 4,300 acres by Friday, fueled by strong winds.
Companies plan to turn off power again
Because of the fire risks, utility companies are again planning to intentionally shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people Tuesday and Wednesday, hoping to lessen the chances their equipment will start or contribute to blazes.
Pacific Gas & Electric said it intends to interrupt power to about 596,000 customers in 29 counties in central and northern California by Tuesday night, with some outages starting in the morning.
In Southern California, 205,000 customers in seven counties are under consideration for possible power shutoffs, Southern California Edison said.
Residents in many areas in the state just had their power restored following severe winds and concerns for fire hazards over the weekend.
Community resource centers are open during the shutoffs in Northern California to give people a place to charge their phones, use restrooms and sit in air conditioning, a tweet from PG&E said.
California utilities — especially PG&E — have been more aggressive this year in cutting power as a means of preventing wildfires caused by high winds downing live power equipment. This comes after PG&E came under criticism in recent years for the role of its equipment in a series of catastrophic wildfires across the state, including the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.
Critics of the shutoffs say that utilities should upgrade their infrastructure instead of relying so heavily on precautionary power outages. California’s Public Utilities Commission said Monday it would investigate whether utilities are complying with shutoff rules, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said utilities deserve to be “aggressively penalized” for relying so much on the outages.