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California: San Bernardino fire adds to ring of blazes around Los Angeles

california

  • Southern California remains at extreme risk of fires starting
  • In wine country, firefighters gained ground against the Kincade fire, the largest burning in the state
New blazes in southern California on Thursday burned homes and forced residents to flee, as strong Santa Ana winds of up to 60mph fueled a ring of wildfires around the Los Angeles area.

In San Bernardino, a city of just over 200,000 people, a new wildfire that broke out in the early hours of Thursday torched several homes and forced evacuations. Less than 20 miles away in Riverside county, evacuations were issued after a fire in the city of Jurupa Valley started shortly after midnight, spreading to 300 acres.

That fires come after a fast-moving blaze on Wednesday swept worrying close the Roland Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, north of LA. The fire at one point threatened 6,500 homes before firefighters were able to control it.

Crews remained at the scene through the night to make sure embers would not rekindle more fires after an army of firefighters helped protect the hilltop Reagan museum, which sat like an island in a soot-black sea. There was no damage, the library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said.

The fire is still burning, but firefighters are believed to have contained the blaze. Cal Fire reports that the blaze consumed nearly 1,500 acres since it started burning yesterday. Mandatory evacuation orders in the area were lifted on Thursday.

Days of destruction

It has been a hellish week for the millions of people affected by the fires in California, where a devastating combination of fierce winds and dry conditions have brought daily fires and fresh evacuations, all amid ongoing power blackouts intended to help prevent new fires from sparking.

The National Weather Service warned that southern California is still at an extreme risk of fires starting and spreading on Thursday and into the evening.

But some respite may be coming for those in the north, as firefighters gained ground against the largest fire burning in the state – the Kincade fire in Sonoma county. The fire, now burning into for more than a week, is 60% contained and has not increased in size since yesterday, officials said. The fire has destroyed 189 houses and 76,000 acres.

The Kincade fire broke out last Wednesday near the town of Geyserville, north of San Francisco. Most of the nearly 200,000 evacuated after the fire started have been now allowed to return home.

Much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties remain under a National Weather Service “red flag warning” of extreme fire danger through Thursday evening because of bone-dry humidity and the chance of winds gusting to 70mph (112kph) in the mountains.

Another blaze Wednesday in southern California’s Jurupa Valley forced the evacuation of two mobile home parks and a psychiatric nursing care facility, where elderly people wearing face masks and wrapped in blankets were taken out in wheelchairs and gurneys as smoke swirled overhead. The blaze grew to 200 acres (80 hectares) in size before its spread was stopped.

“There was one moment when I could see nothing but dark smoke and I was like, ‘We’re going to die,”’ said Qiana McCracken, the assistant director of nursing for the Riverside Heights Healthcare Center.

The days of windstorms are not unusual for the fall season, which has seen vicious gusts propel a series of deadly and destructive California wildfires in recent years. But at least in the short term, there was good news from forecasters.

“This is the last event in our near future. We are not expecting any Santa Anas next week,” the weather service meteorologist Kristen Stewart said.

But she noted the forecast only extends out seven days.

“Once we get past that, all bets are off,” she said.

Power outages continue

More than 350,000 Californians statewide remain without power, after utility companies deliberately cut electricity this week to prevent high winds from damaging power lines and sparking more fires.

Northern California has seen a series of unprecedented power shutoffs this month. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the state’s largest utility, says 42,000 customers, or more than 100,000 people, remain without power in 10 counties.

PG&E, which has staged three sweeping blackouts this week, restored power to hundreds of thousands of people Wednesday and expected to have it back for the others sometime Thursday.

Southern California Edison, another utility company, has said its safety power cuts still affected about 215,000 people by late Wednesday night and warned that outages were under consideration for about 800,000 people.

The waves of outages have been condemned by state officials and frustrated consumers, especially as it appeared that power equipment may have been responsible for sparking some of the fires this week, despite the shutoffs.

The PG&E CEO, Bill Johnson, acknowledged hardships but said outages will be necessary in the future as seasonal fire threats increase.

“As long as they remain the best tool that we have to keep people safe, and our communities safe, they’re the tool we will use,” he said.

 

This story was originally published in Theguardian