Fire crews race to contain California blazes ahead of dangerous winds

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On Tuesday, fire crews fought to contain two major blazes in California as authorities warned of winds with hazardous gusts of up to 80 miles per hour that might fan the flames and spark new infernos.

The National Weather Service issued a 24-hour wind advisory for the northern part of California starting at midday on Tuesday, where over 4,500 firefighters were deployed to fight the Kincade Fire — this year’s largest in the state.

Farther south, where a fire near the Getty Center west of downtown Los Angeles forced evacuations in upscale neighborhoods, the weather service warned of extremely critical fire weather starting late Tuesday.

This wind event in Santa Ana is likely to be the strongest we’ve seen so far this season, said the weather service, referring to every year kick-up winds in southern California.

These strong winds combined with a long duration of one-digit moisture and dry fuels are likely to bring very dangerously fire weather conditions, making this a severe red flag warning case. It is expected the winds will peak at 3 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday to start.

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said that the more than 7,000 residents displaced in the wake of the Getty Fire, which erupted on Monday and destroyed at least a dozen houses, should not plan to return until conditions are secure.

It takes one ember, just one ember downwind, to start another brush fire, warned Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas during a press conference. Embers have been known to fly many miles, so we’re very worried about the wind event tonight, he said.

Officials said the fire scorched 656 acres and were contained in the early afternoon by 15 percent. A few days after Governor Gavin Newsom declared a regional emergency due to fires, the critical weather warnings arrived.

Elsewhere, Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest utility in California, has instituted rolling blackouts in the northern and central parts of the state, affecting millions of people in a bid to reduce the risk of fire. The utility, which said one of its transmission lines had collapsed near the source of Kincade Fire, north of San Francisco, announced as a precaution on Tuesday that it would cut power to nearly 60,000 customers.

Last Wednesday, the Kincade Fire exploded, causing almost 200,000 residents to be evacuated and destroying dozens of homes and wineries in the popular Sonoma area.

It’s just ashes. I lost all my life there, said 71-year-old Wade Hoefer to AFP as he surveyed the ruins of his painting studio at the historic Soda Rock Winery that the Kincade Fire destroyed. My clothes on my back are all I have, he said, adding he was living in his car now. Authorities said they did not expect to contain the fire — which increased to 118 square miles — before November 7, after which it could smolder for weeks.

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