California enters uncharted territory: Massive blackouts, historically dangerous winds
Northern California braced for a weekend in uncharted territory as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. prepared to shut off power to more than 2 million people amid forecasts for one of the worst periods of fire weather in a generation.
It’s a perilous combination that left many anxiously planning for blackouts and the potential for more destructive wildfires, fueled by 36 hours of intense winds. Some fear they will have to confront fires without power, an experience those who fled this week’s Sonoma County fire described as terrifying.
The Diablo winds are expected to pick up Saturday evening and last until Monday morning, longer than the windstorms that fueled the three most catastrophic fires in California history.
“This is definitely an event that we’re calling historic and extreme,” said David King, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Monterey office, which manages forecasts for the Bay Area. “What’s making this event really substantial and historic is the amount of time that these winds are going to remain.”
PG&E warned the power outages could be spread across 36 counties from Humboldt to Santa Cruz to Bakersfield.
Residents are scrambling to prepare. Dr. Jeff Klingman, whose daughter is getting married in the Berkeley hills Saturday, plans to haul a generator to the wedding venue in case the power goes out.
The generator won’t light up the room but could provide power for the DJ.
“We don’t quite know what is going to happen,” he said. “Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed.”
Some forecasts said the East Bay‘s power would go out at 5 p.m. Saturday, just when the wedding is supposed to start.
Klingman said the venue does not allow real candles, so he plans to bring flashlights and possibly battery-operated candles.
“The uncertainty is crazy,” he said. “You just don’t know.”
Klingman purchased the generator on Amazon for $750 — not for the wedding, but for his job.
As chair of neurology for Kaiser Permanente, Klingman is in charge of evaluating emergency stroke patients at 21 Northern California hospitals. He uses a computerized system that provides high-quality video and sound. The generator was purchased to keep his computers at home running when he is on call to evaluate stroke patients, but on Friday he decided he would toss the machine into his van and take it to his daughter’s wedding.
“You don’t expect power to go out,” Klingman said. “But welcome to the Third World country that is America.”
California wildfires: blazes ravage state as 2 million face looming blackouts
Californians faced another day of destruction as firefighters struggled to control a pair of fast-moving wildfires, including one that forced the evacuation of about 50,000 residents in suburbs north of Los Angeles.
Crews in LA county worked overnight to battle the Tick fire, which started on Thursday and has grown to char 4,300 acres, threatening 15,000 homes and businesses, officials said. Images on TV and social media showed flames shooting up residential hillsides, fanned by winds of up to 50mph.
“This is the largest evacuation that we’ve had in Santa Clarita,” Kathryn Barger, a county supervisor, said on Friday.
“This is being done to make sure that we protect not only life but property but also allow our firefighters and first responders to get up there to fight these fires.”
Meanwhile, in northern California, the Kincade fire, which broke out late on Wednesday night, continued to ravage the wine-growing region of Sonoma county. The fire has so far destroyed nearly 50 structures and forced the evacuation of 2,000 people in and around Geyserville, a small town and popular tourist destination.
As of Friday evening, both fires were only 5% contained.
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, declared a local emergency to assist with battling the blazes but firefighters face extremely challenging weather conditions – including strong winds, low humidity and temperatures of up to 90F (32C). A meteorologist described the statewide weather event as an “atmospheric hairdryer”.
The governor made an appearance in the wine country town of Geyserville, where he visited a number of destroyed buildings. “Familiar sights to all of us, devastating sights to those impacted lives literally torn asunder,” he told reporters.
Nearly 2 million residents headed into the weekend facing looming blackouts, after the utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced plans to shut off power to prevent further fires from sparking amid predictions for windy conditions. PG&E warned of outages that could hit people in the north and central parts of the state from Saturday until Monday.
‘A wall of black smoke’
The Tick fire has upended life in the suburban Santa Clarita Valley, about 40 miles (60km) north of downtown Los Angeles, which has been used as the backdrop for many movies and television productions and is home to the Magic Mountain amusement park.
The fire, which began in Tick Canyon, has spread “aggressively” in the last 24 hours.