California wildfires erupt in LA, burn in wine country

Nearly 200,000 people under evacuation orders after fire that broke out last week in Sonoma County

Inmate firefighters battle the Kincade Fire in unincorporated Sonoma County, Calif., near Geyservillle on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Firefighters battled destructive wildfires in Northern California wine country and on the wealthy west side of Los Angeles on Monday, trying to beat back flames that forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

California’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, cut off power to an estimated 2.5 million people in the northern part of the state over the weekend in yet another round of blackouts aimed at preventing windblown electrical equipment from sparking more fires. And more shut-offs are possible in the next few days.

The blaze that broke out last week amid Sonoma County’s vineyards and wineries north of San Francisco exploded to at least 103 square miles (267 square km), destroying 96 buildings, including at least 40 homes, and threatening 80,000 more structures, authorities said. Nearly 200,000 people were under evacuation orders, mostly from the city of Santa Rosa.

In Southern California, the Los Angeles fire erupted before dawn Monday and roared up slopes into well-to-do neighbourhoods, threatening thousands of homes. Tens of thousands of people were ordered to clear out.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the fire had grown to 500 acres (200 hectares) and that he had seen five burned homes. Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said he expects the number to climb.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted that he and his family had to evacuate their home in the city’s exclusive Brentwood section. There was no immediate word on its fate.

“I pray for all the families in the area that could be affected,” he tweeted. “Pretty please get to safety ASAP.”

The fire was burning in the upper elevations of the Brentwood area. The evacuation area extended westward through Pacific Palisades down to the Pacific Coast Highway, encompassing some of the most exclusive real estate in California, where celebrities and executives live in mountain and ridgetop retreats that cost tens of millions of dollars but are surrounded by tinder-dry vegetation.

Night-flying helicopters made water drops before daybreak, and airplanes unleashing loads of water and bright pink fire retardant joined the battle after the sun came up.

The Getty, with its collection of priceless art, was built with special fire protection features, and Los Angeles fire Capt. Erik Scott said it was not threatened.

Fire conditions statewide have 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 warnings for high fire danger Sunday, with flames driven by gusts that reached more than 102 mph (164 kph).

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency over the weekend.

READ MORE: California’s wind-driven blaze spurs massive evacuations

The Associated Press

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