California wildfires force evacuation of thousands of homes
US state struggles to deal with blazes, windy weather and deliberate blackouts
A Ventura County Fire truck battles the Easy Fire a short distance from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles, California. Photograph: John Cetrino/EPA
A new wildfire has erupted in wind-whipped southern California, forcing the evacuation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and nearby homes, as both ends of the state struggled with blazes, gusty weather and deliberate blackouts.
Driven by powerful Santa Ana winds, the brush fire broke out before dawn between the cities of Simi Valley and Moorpark, north of Los Angeles, and exploded to more than 526 hectares, threatening 6,500 homes, Ventura County officials said.
Library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said the hilltop museum was not damaged.
She said the flames came within about 30 yards of the property but that it was protected by aircraft dropping water and by a firebreak, a buffer zone cleared of brush.
Hundreds of goats are brought in each year to eat away vegetation that could fuel wildfires on the 120-hectare grounds, Ms Giller said.
Reagan and his wife Nancy are buried next to each other on a hillside at the library.
Helicopters and planes tackled the blaze as some 800 firefighters battled it on the ground.
The flames pushed through sparsely developed hills between suburban tract developments.
Ranchers rushed to evacuate horses, goats and other livestock.
Wind gusts up to 109km/h were reported in the area, forecasters said.
Other spots elsewhere in southern California were buffeted by even stronger winds.
The wind knocked over a truck along a motorway in Fontana.
Meanwhile, frustration and anger mounted across northern California as Pacific Gas & Electric Co, the state’s largest utility, undertook its third round of sweeping blackouts in a week, hoping to prevent its electrical equipment from toppling or coming into contact with branches and sparking fires.
PG&E said Tuesday’s power shut-offs would affect about 1.5 million people in some 30 counties including the Sierra foothills, wine country and San Francisco Bay Area.
They included one million still without power from a blackout over the weekend.
Across the darkened neighbourhoods, people worried about charging mobile phones and electric vehicles, finding petrol and cash, staying warm and keeping their food from spoiling.
Some ended up at centres set up by PG&E where people could go to power their electronics and get free water, snacks, torches and solar lanterns.
PG&E officials said they understood the hardships caused by the blackouts but insisted they were necessary.
In wine country north of San Francisco, fire officials reported progress in their battle against a 190-square-kilometre blaze in Sonoma County, saying it was 30 per cent contained.
The fire destroyed at least 206 structures, including 94 homes, and threatened 90,000 more, most of them homes, authorities said.
More than 150,000 people were under evacuation orders.
Winds topped out at 112km/h north of San Francisco Bay and began to ease early on Wednesday, but forecasters said the fire danger would remain high because of continuing breezes and dry air.
In southern California, fire crews continued trying to snuff out a wildfire in the celebrity-studded hills of Los Angeles that destroyed a dozen homes on Monday.
About 9,000 people, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James, were under evacuation orders.
That fire was caused when a dry branch from a eucalyptus tree was flung 30ft by high winds into a city Department of Water and Power line and caused sparks, authorities said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti called it an “act of God”.
The city had cut away brush and trees from around the line, officials said.
The National Weather Service issued an extreme red flag warning for high winds for much of southern California through Thursday evening, with some gusts expected to reach 128km/h.
It could be the strongest bout of winds in years.
No deaths have been reported from the fires, but toppled trees claimed three lives.
Governor Gavin Newsom and top utility regulators have accused PG&E of mismanaging its power system and failing for decades to make the investments needed to ensure it is more durable.
PG&E president Bill Johnson said he talked to the governor and agreed to give customers affected by an October 9th blackout a one-time credit on their bills, but he did not say how much. – AP