New evacuations were ordered for at least 50,000 people living in Sonoma County near a huge wildfire and millions of Californians will have their power cut again as the state’s largest utility said it would shut off electricity for the third time in as many weeks because of looming strong winds and high fire danger.
The entire communities of Healdsburg and Windsor were ordered to evacuate ahead of severe winds that could lead to erratic fire behavior near the blaze burning in wine country.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said it is expected to be the biggest evacuation in the county in more than 25 years.
‘The winds are expected anywhere between 8pm and midnight and from all reports they’re expected to be extremely strong,’ said Brian Vitorelo with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Two previous power shutdowns were done amid concern that gusty winds could disrupt or knock down power lines and spark devastating wildfires.
Weather forecasts called for strong winds to lash much of the region over the weekend, with some gusts hitting 85 mph (137 kph). It might be a record wind event, the National Weather Service warned.
Pacific Gas & Electric said it would begin blackouts in the afternoon for about 940,000 homes and businesses in 36 counties for 48 hours or longer throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, wine country and Sierra foothills. That’s about 90,000 more customers affected than previously predicted. It previously said it was considering cutting power to 850,000 homes, which would affect around 2.5 million people.
PG&E Corporation CEO and President Bill Johnson tried to reassure customers that the company was taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of Californians.
‘We understand that a longer shutoff would be very difficult for our customers. We are already working to minimize the length, including amassing a force of field personnel from PG&E, plus contractors and other utility companies, to be ready to tackle the inspection, repair and restoration process as soon as the weather passes,’ he said in a statement.
PG&E cites the ‘historic wind event’ set to hit the state this weekend as the main reason for the additional power cuts.
On Saturday evening, the Diablo winds are expected to pick up and will last until at least Monday morning.
Dave King, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Monterey office told the LA times that the event was ‘historic’.
‘This is definitely an event that we’re calling historic and extreme. What’s making this event really substantial and historic is the amount of time that these winds are going to remain.’
Winds are expected to reach up to 70mph in the mountains and the high winds could potentially cause an electrical system to spark, causing a fire to set ablaze in dry bush.
‘The upcoming wind event has the potential to be one of the strongest in the last several years. It’s also likely to be longer than recent wind events, which have lasted about 12 hours or less,’ PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel.
According to an announcement from the utility company, 12 counties in the Northern Sierra foothills could lose power by as early as 3pm Saturday and five counties in the North Bay area could be without power by 5pm Saturday.
A staggering 15 counties could without power around 7pm on Saturday in the Bay Area, Central Coast and Sierra Foothills.
Finally, Kern county could is potentially scheduled for 11am on Sunday.
Residents are still waiting on an official announcement from PG&E.
Meanwhile, PG&E is catching heat for its potential role in the massive wildfires terrorizing California.
Pacific Gas & Electric says up to 2.1 million people in Northern and Central California could lose power in the largest planned power shutoff in the region.
The utility said it has notified about 850,000 customers in 36 counties that it may cut off power between 6pm and 10pm on Saturday to prevent wildfires. The outages may last until midday Monday.
California Governor Gavin Newsom slammed PG&E’s ‘years and years of greed’ on Friday after the utility company admitted its electrical equipment may have ignited a ruinous wildfire that spread across California’s wine country.
PG&E made the stark admission despite blackouts imposed across the region to prevent blazes.
And Newsom, who had earlier declared a state of emergency for Sonoma and Los Angeles counties, told a news conference: ‘We should not have to be here. Years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement in the utilities, in particularly PG&E.
‘Greed has precipitated a lack of intentionality and focus and a hardening our grid, undergrounding their transmission lines.
‘They simply did not do their job. We will hold them accountable. This is not the new normal, this cannot continue.’
California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghillarducci is warning Californians to be prepared with supplies because gas stations and grocery stores might lose power.
PG&E said it didn’t de-energize a 230,000-volt transmission line near Geyserville that malfunctioned and finding a ‘broken jumper’ wire on a transmission tower around 9.20pm on Wednesday.
Seven minutes later, the so-called Kincade Fire erupted in Sonoma County, near the town of Geyserville, forcing about 2,000 evacuations, burning 49 structures and leaving huge swathes of the state without power.
As of Saturday, 50,000 more Sonoma County residents were ordered to evacuate as the Kicade fire continues to grow.
‘If we look at the past three years, all of the large and damaging fires have occurred at this time of the year during an offshore wind event, particularly during red flag warnings,’ Jonathan Cox, a Cal Fire spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.
‘It has us highly concerned that the vulnerable areas of California could see some explosive fires.’
It was whipped up by the strong winds that had prompted PG&E to impose sweeping blackouts affecting a half-million people in Northern and Central California.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), has revealed the fire has burned 22,455 acres and is 10 percent contained.
As of Saturday afternoon, more areas in California have been ordered to evacuate immediately.
Footage of the Kincade fire’s initial spark was captured and shows how devastatingly quick the blaze grew in just a matter of minutes.
The clip begins with a bright white spot on the horizon shortly after 9.20pm on Wednesday.
It quickly grows before suddenly exploding into huge flames. The fire had devastated 10,000-acres by morning and has since gone on to destroy nearly 22,000 acres, according to officials.
Cameras from the University of Nevada and the University of Oregon are set up to help fire crews locate and respond to fires faster.
The flames appear to shoot up in the air after being fueled by winds of more than 70 miles per hour.
Fire crews are said to have carved containment lines around just five percent of the blaze’s perimeter since it erupted on Wednesday night.
It has been reported that two civilians and a firefighter were injured when the firefighter was trying the evacuate the pair and they became overwhelmed by the flames.
Cal Fire said: ‘The firefighter was forced to deploy his fire shelter, where he shielded them from fire. After the flames passed, all three were taken to a hospital. None of their injuries were life-threatening.’
Light breezes early on Friday helped firefighters make headway.
PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said it was too soon to know if the faulty equipment started the fire. He said the tower had been inspected four times in the past two years and appeared to have been in ‘excellent condition’.
The disclosure came as firefighters simultaneously battled flames in Sonoma County’s vineyards, and a wind-whipped blaze that destroyed homes near Los Angeles.
Currently, there are nine active wildfires are raging across California that have burned nearly 35,000 acres, CNN reports.
In Northern California, the active fires include the Cabrillo Fire, Kincade Fire, Muir Fire and Nelson Fire. Meanwhile in Southern California they include the Mines Fire, Saddle Ridge Fire and Tick Fire.
Punishing Santa Ana winds pushed the Tick Fire into Los Angeles-area neighborhoods, burning at least six homes and putting as many as 50,000 people under evacuation orders.
In just a few hours, the blaze, one of four in the area, went from scorching a few hundred acres to more than 4,000, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
As of Saturday morning, the fire has scorched 4,615 acres and is 25 percent contained.
The threat of hot, dry, winds driving flames far and wide was met with fleets of aircraft and more than 500 firefighters on the ground, who tried to protect homes where backyards were surrounded by trees and brush.
As of Saturday morning, Cal Fire has announce that areas affected by the Tick Fire are now allowed to return back to their residences and businesses.
However, some areas like the Baker Canyon Road from Sierra Highway to 15142 Sierra Highway are still closed.
Tick Canyon Road from Abelia Road to Summit Knoll Road is also closed.
Those locations will be evaluated and their safety will be determined in later.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, by Lauren Edmonds, Mary Kekatos, and Lauren Fruen