SAN FRANCISCO: Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) began shutting off power to about 25,000 customers in central and northern California on Monday (Oct 11) and Southern California Edison warned it may do the same for up to 9,000 of its customers as high winds toppled trees, downed power lines and ignited at least one of several fires that forced people to flee from their homes.
At least a half dozen small fires broke out across the state by late afternoon, challenging firefighters as they tried to contain the blazes amid the blustering wind.
West of Santa Barbara, authorities ordered the mandatory evacuation of campsites, cattle and horse ranches near Refugio State Beach and shut US 101 — the only highway along the coast — as winds pushed a fire that started in the Los Padres National Forest toward the beach, US Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said.
The fire quickly grew to at least four square kilometres and could reach a landfill, he said. Water-dropping aircraft were working to contain the fire because it was burning in rugged terrain.
In the San Joaquin Valley, a grass fire north of Madera prompted evacuations east of State Route 99. Meanwhile, firefighters in Fresno rescued three people trapped in their home after a tree fell onto it.
Forecasters issued a red flag warning for extreme fire danger as winds gusted up to 89 kmh in mountains and 39 to 72 kmh in valleys. The warning extends until late Tuesday. The strongest winds are expected most of Monday, said Hannah Chandler-Cooley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
The planned outages are necessary because high winds, combined with low humidity and drought-ravaged vegetation, could raise the risk of trees falling on power lines and spark a fast-spreading wildfire, PG&E said in a statement. Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in California and the rest of the US West.
On the Central Coast, a tree fell onto power lines at Hearst San Simeon State Park, sparking a small fire in the brush, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection tweeted.
Winds were expected to pick up Monday afternoon to evening in Southern California, with projected gusts of 80 to 113 kmh. SoCal Edison began turning off power to a customers in parts of Los Angele and Ventura counties to reduce the threat of wildfires.