California governor declares statewide emergency as Kincade Fire grows to 50000 acres

Monday, 28 Oct, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency on Sunday as the raging Kincade and Tick fires have wreaked havoc in Sonoma and Los Angeles counties, collectively torching tens of thousands of acres and displacing more than 100,000 people.

The so-called Kincade Fire, north of San Francisco, spread to 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) overnight, with only 10 per cent containment by early afternoon Sunday, state fire authorities said.

Steve Volmer, the chief fire behavior analyst at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said the Kincade fire was threatening to jump to the west of US 101, where there have been no fires since the 1940s.

As winds reach extremely unsafe levels in Southern California, the Getty fire in Los Angeles is exploding in size and forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes.

"I have nothing but good things to say about the federal government's support", Newsom said. "We kind of freaked out because we had the fires in 2017".

Almost 180,000 Sonoma County residents are under mandatory evacuation orders as a result of the wind-driven blaze, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Another million people are expected to lose their supplies in the hours ahead.

Nearly 1,000 fire fighters were at work building additional containment lines and looking for burned areas in danger of rekindling. Ultimately, the fire consumed 8,799 acres and destroyed 19 structures, damaging 88 others.

"This is the largest evacuation that any of us at the Sheriff's Office can remember", the Sonoma County sheriff said on Twitter. As of Sunday, the Tick Fire was 70% contained.

Dry Santa Ana winds are expected throughout the day, leaving Angelenos in an extremely critical fire risk area.

A firefighter watches over a back fire along a hillside during firefighting operations to battle the Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California on October 26, 2019.

This story has been corrected to remove an inaccurate reference to the number of counties where Pacific Gas & Electric made a decision to cut power, and to show that the newspaper that reported water issues was The Vallejo Times Herald.

Officials are expecting risky rates of spread, extreme spotting of up to one mile and high flame lengths in the overnight hours into Sunday, Cal Fire Incident Fire Behavior Analyst Steve Volmer said in a news conference Saturday night.

PG&E has came under widespread criticism and agreed to pay billions for its role in the 2018 Camp Fire, California's deadliest and most destructive blaze. But it warned that it, too, could have to shut off electricity to more than 300,000 customers, correlating to about three-quarters of a million people, to secure its power lines and transmitters. "Take care of each other", the office tweeted.

Expecting winds to strengthen again on Tuesday, PG&E said on Sunday night that it may conduct yet another round of shutoffs that would begin on Tuesday and could affect some 32 counties throughout Northern California.

The tally of evacuation orders has hovered between 40,000 and 50,000, authorities said.

The planned shutoff is the largest meant to prevent wildfires since PG&E started conducting "public safety power shutoffs" in a handful of counties previous year.

The governor has also met with first responders, health officials, and residents of Napa, Geyserville, and Los Angeles this week, and held public briefings regarding the ongoing fire threats and the need to hold utilities accountable for the consequences of their decisions to shut off power for large portions of the state. The Mandeville Canyon and Mountain Gate communities remains under a mandatory evacuation order that verges into Brentwood, and the evacuation warning area has been expanded westward to include parts of Topanga State Park and the Pacific Palisades.