Wildfires spread amid power outages in Northern California
Santa Rosa (US): As nearly 200,000 people remain under evacuation order from threat of wildfire, some of the millions of people in Northern California on track to get their electricity back may not have power restored before another possible round of shut-offs and debilitating winds.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has notified more than 1.2 million people that they may have their electricity shut off for what could be the third time in a week and the fourth time this month.
Meanwhile, more than 2.4 million people who lost electricity over the weekend were awaiting restoration as hurricane-force winds whipped through the state, fueling a wildfire in Sonoma County as smaller spot fires cropped up. Fire conditions statewide made California "a tinderbox," said Jonathan Cox, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Of the state's 58 counties, 43 were under red flag warnings for high fire danger Sunday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the wildfires, powered by gusts that reached more than 102 mph (164 kph).
The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, which started Wednesday, grew to 85 square miles (220 square kilometers), destroyed 94 buildings and was threatening 80,000 buildings, state fire authorities said Sunday night.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, two grass fires briefly halted traffic on an interstate bridge. The flames came dangerously close to homes in Vallejo.
Another grass fire closed a stretch of interstate that cut through the state capital as smoke obstructed drivers.
In the south, a wildfire in the Santa Clarita area near Los Angeles destroyed 18 structures. As of Sunday, the Tick Fire was 70% contained.
To prevent power lines from sparking in high winds and setting off more blazes, PG&E said Sunday that power is out to 965,000 customers and another 100,000 have lost electricity because of strong gusts, bringing the number of residents impacted by blackouts to nearly 2.7 million people.
The biggest evacuation was in Northern California's Sonoma County where 180,000 people were told to pack up and leave. Some evacuating early Sunday had done so two years ago, when devastating wildfires swept through Sonoma and Napa and neighboring counties, killing 44 people.
At an evacuation center at Napa Valley College, Francisco Alvarado, 15, said he, two younger brothers and his parents decided to vacate their Calistoga home in advance of evacuation orders. Two years ago, the family had to flee, but in the middle of the night.
"I'm pretty mad that we have to keep evacuating," he said. "I just want to be home. I'm trying to leave here tomorrow; I want to sleep in my bed." He said he wasn't sure who, if anyone, to blame for the repeated fires, but said he didn't fault PG&E for turning off the electricity to try to prevent them.
Rosa Schuth of Sebastopol stayed up late packing bags but didn't think she would need to evacuate because the fires never reached her town in 2017.
She had been asleep for a half hour when she heard sirens telling residents to go. She got in her car and hopped on a country road that became jammed with evacuees.
"The wind is really something. It just rages and suddenly it stops, and you see a bird drifting by," she said.
Electricity is expected to begin being restored by Monday, though the utility warned it might cut power again as soon as Tuesday because of another forecast of strong winds that are expected to last until Wednesday.
The fear that the winds could blow embers and spread fire across a major highway prompted authorities to expand evacuation orders that covered parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was devastated by wildfire two years ago.
Hundreds of people arrived at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa by Sunday. Some came from senior care facilities. More than 300 people slept inside an auditorium filled with cots and wheeled beds. Scores of others stayed in a separate building with their pets.
Among them was Maribel Cruz, 19, who packed up her dog, four cats and fish as soon as she was told to flee her trailer in the town of Windsor, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of San Francisco. She also grabbed a
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