Fueled by violent winds from the northeast, fires erupted on dry hills across California, tearing through oaks and vineyards in Sonoma County and burning homes hundreds of miles away in subdivisions near Santa Clarita.
The extreme weather conditions will continue into this weekend, heightening both the fire threat and the likelihood of more widespread power outages as utilities try to prevent electrical lines from sparking more blazes.
As the winds swept into California on Wednesday night, an eruption of fires big and small followed: first Northern California wine country, then San Bernardino, Orange County, Marin County, Santa Clarita, Eagle Rock and the San Fernando Valley. Firefighters were able to control some while others exploded out of control.
The Kincade fire started Wednesday night and consumed more than 16,000 acres of northern Sonoma County, pushed by wind gusts higher than 70 mph and forcing the evacuation of Geyserville and other parts of the famed Alexander Valley wine region and burning about 50 structures..
“If you’re in Geyserville, leave now,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in an advisory Thursday morning.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had shut off power to thousands because of dangerous wind conditions.
It’s unclear whether utility lines played a role in the Sonoma County blaze, but an incident report from PG&E said a transmission line failure occurred near Kincade and Burned Mountain roads at 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, around the time the fire was first reported. In a mandatory report sent to the California Public Utilities Commission, the company said one of its workers noticed Thursday morning that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had taped off the area. PG&E said Cal Fire also pointed out a “broken jumper on the same tower.”
PG&E said distribution lines in Geyserville and the surrounding area were shut down at 3 p.m. Wednesday but transmission lines remained energized.
“Those transmission lines were not deenergized because forecast weather conditions, particularly wind speeds, did not trigger the PSPS [public safety power shut-off] protocol,” PG&E said in a statement. “The wind speeds of concern for transmission lines are higher than those for distribution.”
Officials have not determined the cause of the fire.
In Southern California, the Tick fire erupted near the 14 Freeway around 1:45 p.m. Thursday and was moving quickly toward Agua Dulce, with 29-mph gusts that were expected to as much as double in strength overnight.
Firefighters scrambled to get air support to protect neighborhoods in the fire’s path. But the rugged topography made it difficult as the blaze raced through narrow gullies up to the backs of homes. Some homeowners tried to beat back flames with garden hoses, but several homes went ablaze.
Other fires broke out in Marin, San Bernardino and Orange counties, and one ignited in Eagle Rock.
Southern California Edison said it planned to turn off electricity to as many as 300,000 customers, while PG&E reported cutting power to more than 184,000 customers but apparently did not shut down all transmission lines in the Kincade fire zone.
The outages gave some residents a false sense of security. Madonna Tavares and her husband went to sleep in their Geyserville home around midnight and woke to a banging on their door at 5:30 a.m. “Get out! Get out!” their landlord yelled.
Tavares, 70, said the smoke outside was so thick she could barely see a foot in front of her.
With the power out, she and her husband scrambled in the dark to get dressed, find their two small dogs and jump in their car.
“They shut off the power and we still had a fire,” she said. “I don’t understand it.”
Some 50,000 Evacuated Over Wildfires Near Los Angeles
Some 50,000 residents have been told to evacuate as several wildfires approach settlements across southern California, according to a statement by Los Angeles County Fire Department.
According to a fire department tweet, the Tick Fire near Agua Dulce in northern Los Angeles County, which spread across 3,000 acres, has already destroyed several structures. As of Thursday evening, the fire remains completely uncontained.
In northern California, a much larger Kincaid Fire spread across 16,000 acres, destroying at least 49 homes or structures, NBC report says.