PG&E failed to inspect transmission lines that caused deadly 2018 wildfire: state probe

PG&E failed to inspect transmission lines that caused deadly 2018 wildfire: state probe
By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Bankrupt California power producer PG&E Corp <PCG.N> did not properly inspect and replace transmission lines before a faulty wire sparked a wildfire that killed more than 80 people in 2018, a probe by a state regulator has concluded.

The Caribou-Palermo transmission line was identified as the cause of the Camp Fire last year, which virtually incinerated the Northern California town of Paradise and stands as the state’s most lethal blaze.

“PG&E failed to maintain an effective inspection and maintenance program to identify and correct hazardous conditions on its transmission lines … as are necessary to promote the safety and health of its patrons and the public,” a 700-page report by the California Public Utilities Commission said.

The report was dated Nov. 8, 2019. It was released to the public on Monday.

The probe concluded that PG&E’s inspection shortcomings were part of a pattern of ‘inadequate’ execution of those tasks.

In response to the report, PG&E acknowledged the role of its equipment in the fire and apologized.

“We remain deeply sorry about the role our equipment had in this tragedy, and we apologize to all those impacted by the devastating Camp Fire,” the company told Reuters in an emailed statement, adding that it accepted the probe’s conclusion that the company’s electrical transmission lines caused that fire.

The utility filed for bankruptcy in January, citing potential civil liabilities of more than $30 billion from wildfires linked to its gear.

Last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali ruled that PG&E is strictly liable for fires tied to its equipment, even if the utility was not negligent.

PG&E was fined $1.6 billion for a deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California.

(The refiled story fixes typo in headline)

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Fast-moving fire threatens homes in Santa Barbara County

A firefighter battles the Cave fire in Los Padres National Forest near East Camino Cielo, California, U.S. November 25, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/via REUTERS

By Subrat Patnaik

(Reuters) – Fire ripped through brush and woodland on hills above the Californian city of Santa Barbara early on Tuesday, forcing residents to leave their homes, authorities said.

The Santa Barbara County declared a local emergency at 10:30 p.m (0630 GMT) on Monday night, after a fire broke out in Los Padres National Forest at about 4:15 p.m.

The flames spread quickly to cover about 3,000 acres by the evening and have not yet been contained, Santa Barbara County said in a statement.

Firefighters battle flames off Highway 154 north of Santa Barbara, California, U.S. November 25, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/via REUTERS

Firefighters battle flames off Highway 154 north of Santa Barbara, California, U.S. November 25, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/via REUTERS

“An evacuation warning is being issued for the area north of Foothill Road and Ontare to Gibraltar Road,” the office said, referring to areas north of the city.

The blaze, dubbed the “cave fire”, started near East Camino Cielo and Painted Cave Road in the forest.

“The Cave Fire is advancing toward major population areas in the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta,” the county said.

Firefighters from neighboring areas were rushing to Santa Barbara to help the local service control the blaze, authorities said.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Ed Osmond)

California school shooting shines light on murky ‘ghost gun’ world

By Brad Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – “Ghost guns” like the one a 16-year-old boy used to kill two classmates and injure three others at a California high school last week are self-assembled, virtually untraceable – and completely legal.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department confirmed that the .45-caliber pistol that Nathaniel Berhow used in the shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, on his 16th birthday was made from a kit. He then shot himself and died a day later in the hospital.

Such firearms have no serial numbers, and by making the gun themselves, owners can legally bypass background checks and registration regulations. That’s why they are known as “ghost guns.”

Kits can be purchased online or at gun shows, as long as the frames are not fully functional. But users can easily and cheaply machine and assemble them.

Police do not know how Berhow got his hands on the pistol he used, or who sold it and assembled it.

Kit guns represent what law enforcement and gun safety advocates call the next frontier of the fight to keep weapons away from potential criminals.

“Congress and state legislatures enact all these crimes about gun registration. But now the gun industry is creating a way to just bypass the entire thing,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told KABC TV on Thursday in confirming the weapon used in the high school shooting on Nov. 14.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did not immediately reply to questions about whether it tracks how many such untraceable weapons it recovers.

MORE UNKNOWN

“More is unknown about ghost guns than known,” said Nick Suplina, managing director for law and policy at gun safety advocacy group Everytown.

“Law enforcement is increasingly having to familiarize themselves with them, but it’s not hit the public consciousness yet that there is a legal, untraceable firearm out there that can be ordered in parts online and assembled at home.”

Suplina, a former New York state prosecutor who has worked on cases involving such guns, said law enforcement agencies have no reporting requirements for ghost guns used in crimes.

But in the past decade they have gone from relatively complex and difficult weapons to put together to incredibly simple.

To stay within federal law, the frames or “receivers” of such guns can be sold 80% complete. The other components required to build a functioning firearm are often sold along with the frame and packaged as a kit.

Kit guns vary widely in prices, like fully assembled weapons, but the same models are generally the same price.

Also included are drill bits and jigs that allow the purchaser to easily mill the frame with a simple drill press that can cost less than $100.

In recent years, federal courts convicted several people for manufacturing untraceable weapons without a license.

“Criminal enterprises and gangs are seeing a real opportunity here to mass manufacture untraceable firearms and sell them at a premium,” Suplina said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; editing by Bill Tarrant and Gerry Doyle)

California’s PG&E customers face new round of mass outages

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Power supply to about 150,000 California homes and businesses is expected to be shut off on Wednesday, in the latest precautionary outage planned by utility giant PG&E against wildfire risks posed by extremely dry, windy weather.

Late on Tuesday, the company said it would go forward with the shutoffs from 9 a.m., with some customers likely to be unaffected until late afternoon.

The mass blackout will be the fourth imposed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co, a unit of PG&E Corp, since Oct. 9, when about 730,000 customers were left in the dark as a preventive measure called a “public safety power shutoff.”

A precautionary outage initiated on Oct. 23 hit an estimated 179,000 customers, while another run in phases from Oct. 26 through Nov. 1 affected a record 941,000 homes and workplaces, according to PG&E.

The latest mass shutoff is likely to run through midday Thursday and could ultimately affect 181,000 customers across portions of 16 counties in northern and central California, PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen told Reuters.

The outages are a response to forecasts for humidity levels to drop and heavy desert winds to howl through the region, a scenario that strengthens the risk of wildfires ignited by downed power lines.

Wind gusts will reach between 35 mph and 55 miles (56 km to 89 km), with isolated areas of higher gusts, National Weather Service forecasters said.

PG&E, California’s largest investor-owned utility, filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in civil liability from major fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

That tally includes the state’s deadliest fire on record, the Camp fire that killed 85 people in and around the northern town of Paradise last year.

The recent wave of precautionary shutoffs has provoked criticism from Governor Gavin Newsom, state regulators and consumer activists as being too broad.

Newsom blames PG&E for doing too little to properly maintain and secure its power lines against wind damage and has accused the utility of poorly managing some of the mass outages.

Utility executives have acknowledged room for improvement while defending the sprawling cutoffs as a matter of public safety.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently opened a formal investigation of whether PG&E and other utilities violated energy regulations by cutting power to millions of residents for days at a time during periods of high winds.

Even as northern California braced for heightened wildfire risks, parts of Southern California, including Los Angeles, were expected to be doused by their first substantial showers after months of little or no rainfall.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Clarence Fernandez)

California police find no motive for school shooting

California police find no motive for school shooting By Steve Gorman SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Reuters) - A 16-year-old student was carrying out a deliberate plan when he shot five teenagers at his California high school then turned the gun on himself, the local sheriff said on Friday, but authorities have no clues about what sparked the bloodshed. "We did not find any manifesto, any diary that spelled it out," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a briefing. The gunman, whose identity has not been made public, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound but was in grave condition in a hospital, Villanueva said. Two of the other five students who were shot in the Thursday morning attack died of their wounds. Detectives worked through the night to follow up on tips related to the shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles. The shooting, which was caught on video, unfolded in 16 seconds, police said. Arriving at school on his 16th birthday, the suspect pulled a .45 semi-automatic pistol from his backpack in an outdoor courtyard, stood in one place and shot his victims in rapid succession before turning the gun and firing the last bullet into his head. Villanueva said authorities did not know the origin of the gun used, nor how the shooter got his hands on it. All Hart District schools in Santa Clarita were closed on Friday, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's office said on Twitter, out of respect for the victims and their families. Two girls aged 14 and 15 were being treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California and were listed in good and fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said early on Friday. At the Henry Mayo Hospital in Santa Clarita, authorities said a 14-year-old boy was treated and released. Two other students who had been taken there died. A hospital spokesman could not immediately be reached on Friday. Villanueva identified one of the students killed as Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15. He said the families of the other student killed and those wounded did not authorize him to release their names. The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at U.S. schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault rifle killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018. It was the 85th incident of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group. (Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alan Devall in Santa Clarita; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York City, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Dan Whitcomb in Culver City and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Whitcomb and additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

California police find no motive for school shooting
By Steve Gorman

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Reuters) – A 16-year-old student was carrying out a deliberate plan when he shot five teenagers at his California high school then turned the gun on himself, the local sheriff said on Friday, but authorities have no clues about what sparked the bloodshed.

“We did not find any manifesto, any diary that spelled it out,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a briefing.

The gunman, whose identity has not been made public, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound but was in grave condition in a hospital, Villanueva said. Two of the other five students who were shot in the Thursday morning attack died of their wounds.

Detectives worked through the night to follow up on tips related to the shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles. The shooting, which was caught on video, unfolded in 16 seconds, police said.

Arriving at school on his 16th birthday, the suspect pulled a .45 semi-automatic pistol from his backpack in an outdoor courtyard, stood in one place and shot his victims in rapid succession before turning the gun and firing the last bullet into his head.

Villanueva said authorities did not know the origin of the gun used, nor how the shooter got his hands on it.

All Hart District schools in Santa Clarita were closed on Friday, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s office said on Twitter, out of respect for the victims and their families.

Two girls aged 14 and 15 were being treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California and were listed in good and fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said early on Friday.

At the Henry Mayo Hospital in Santa Clarita, authorities said a 14-year-old boy was treated and released. Two other students who had been taken there died. A hospital spokesman could not immediately be reached on Friday.

Villanueva identified one of the students killed as Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15. He said the families of the other student killed and those wounded did not authorize him to release their names.

The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at U.S. schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault rifle killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.

It was the 85th incident of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alan Devall in Santa Clarita; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York City, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Dan Whitcomb in Culver City and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Whitcomb and additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

Student gunman kills 1, wounds others at California high school

Student gunman kills 1, wounds others at California high school
By Alan Devall

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Reuters) – A California high school student dressed in black is suspected of having opened fire on campus on Thursday, killing at least one person and wounding several others before he was arrested, officials said.

“Suspect is in custody and being treated at a local hospital,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said on Twitter.

In addition to a dead female, two males were in critical condition and another was in good condition, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital said on Twitter.

“We believe at this time that there is only one suspect but we are actively investigating and following all leads,” the Santa Clarita Valley branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

The suspect was described by police as an Asian male and a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Los Angeles.

A weapon was recovered at the scene, a police officer told NBC television.

The incident marked yet another school shooting in the United States, where repeated mass shootings in recent years have intensified the debate about gun control and the constitutional right for citizens to keep and bear arms.

Video from local NBC television showed a line of students marching away from the school and a row of police and fire department vehicles parked out front.

“I was really, really scared. I was shaking,” one female student told NBC television, adding that she saw one person lying on the ground covered in blood.

The student said she was doing homework when people started running, and she hid under a table until police entered the building.

The mother of student Anthony Peters told NBC he was still on lockdown inside the school but had texted that he was uninjured.

“One of the teachers said, ‘There is an active shooter. I heard the shots and saw three kids get shot,'” Peters’ mother told NBC.

Some of the wounded were being treated in a grassy area on the school’s campus, the Los Angeles Times reported. At least one injured person was found in the school’s choir room, authorities told the newspaper.

Some 2,300 students attend the school, which is made up of more than a dozen buildings.

The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other recent mass shootings at schools across the United States, including the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.

The Valentine’s Day massacre at Stoneman ignited a nationwide student-led movement, calling for school and gun safety. In August, survivors of that shooting released a sweeping gun-control plan that would ban assault-style rifles and take other steps with the aim of halving U.S. firearms deaths and injuries within a decade.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two teenagers went on a rampage, fatally shooting 12 students and a teacher and wounding more than 20 others before killing themselves.

“Speechless about the shooting in Southern California,” tweeted Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, who was one of the students who organized rallies and lobbying efforts in Florida’s capital Tallahassee and Washington following the shooting.

“Sending love and strength to the whole community,” Kasky added.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

At least five wounded after shooting at California high school: officials

At least five  people were wounded after a shooter opened fire at a high school in Santa Clarita, California, a city north of Los Angeles, officials said.

A suspect described as a male Asian in black clothing was still at large, the Santa Clarita Valley sheriff said on Twitter.

“This is still a very active situation. Reports of approximately 5 victims being treated. Parents, deputies are on scene everywhere protecting your children,” the Santa Clarita Valley branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.

Saugus High School and all schools in the William S. Hart district were placed on lockdown while authorities flooded the area.

Video from local NBC television showed a line of students walking away from the school and a row of police and fire department vehicles parked out front.

KTLA video, broadcast on CNN, showed one woman being loaded into an ambulance.

“Several injured. LASD resources on site and searching for suspect,” Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Undersheriff Tim Murakami said in a post on Twitter. “Will be locking down area schools. Advise residents to shelter in place and report any suspicious activity.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

California winds slacken, helping firefighters control blazes

California winds slacken, helping firefighters control blazes
(Reuters) – Winds that have fanned California’s wildfires have calmed, helping firefighters contain blazes that have destroyed homes and forced mass power outages since late last month.

“We’ve really seen the end of it,” said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Serices’s (NWS) Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“The winds have calmed down and this is nothing but good news,” he said. “It remains extremely dry to so more (fire) spreading is possible, but there are no elevated fire concerns.”

The state’s largest fire, dubbed the Kincade fire in Sonoma County’s tourist-popular wine country, was 78% contained late on Sunday at the fire department’s last update.

It burned nearly 80,000 acres (32,375 hectares) and destroying more than 370 structures since it started on Oct. 23, officials said.

Firefighters working overnight into Monday to contain a Southern California wildfire made significant headway, containing 70% of the blaze with the aid of cooler weather and lighter winds after it burned thousands of acres of dry brush and farmland.

The Maria Fire, which broke out on Thursday near the community of Santa Paula about 70 miles (110 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, had destroyed two structures and burned more than 9,400 acres (3,800 hectares), the Ventura County Fire Department said on Sunday.

Firefighters paid close attention to the county’s avocado and citrus orchards threatened by the flames, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Evacuation orders in Ventura County were lifted on Saturday, when the fire department said the blaze was 20% contained. More than 10,000 residents had previously been told to evacuate at the peak of the fire’s rapid spread.

Southern California Edison has told state authorities that 13 minutes before the fire started, it began to re-energize a circuit near where flames first erupted, said a spokesman for the utility, Ron Gales.

Southern California Edison had shut off power in the area because of concerns that an electrical mishap could spark a wildfire. The utility and fire officials have said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Some smaller fires have broken out, including the so-called Ranch fire in Tehama County, which has burned about 470 acres of brush and chaparral, with some evacuations advised late Sunday but none ordered, officials said. No structures were reported damaged.

(Reporting by Rich McKay, additional reporting by by Gabriella Borter; Editing by William Maclean)

Living on the edge in the homeless encampments of Los Angeles

Living on the edge in the homeless encampments of Los Angeles
By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – After years on the street, Kimberly Decoursey spends her nights at a Los Angeles temporary housing site called the Hollywood Studio Club. But by day, she can still be found at a highway off-ramp with her homeless fiance and a less rule-bound street community.

Decoursey, 37, who grew up in foster homes, considers the friends who have shared her struggles on the streets of Los Angeles to be her family. She wants them to enjoy what she has now: a bed, regular meals and a shower.

“A lot of them would give their right arm to be inside,” Decoursey said of her comrades inhabiting grimy tents pitched on dirt patches in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

Yet only a fraction of the estimated 36,000 homeless in Los Angeles have been housed three years after voters in November 2016 approved a ballot measure that raised $1.2 billion to build housing for street denizens and poor people.

The sheer cost of building permanent homes with social services in one of the priciest real estate markets in the United States is one of the biggest obstacles. There is also opposition from homeowner groups to building such homes in their neighborhoods.

Some homeless people have their own apprehensions about living among strangers and having to follow rules in shelters.

The first project funded by the ballot measure to provide permanent homes with on-site social services is scheduled to open only by the end of the year, officials said.

The problem is growing. Homelessness spiked by 16 percent in January 2019 compared with the previous year, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said.

The homeless have set up tents on sidewalks and in neglected corners of nearly every section of the nation’s second-largest city, from wealthy Bel-Air to working-class San Pedro.

Republican President Donald Trump on a visit to California in September said people living on the streets have ruined the “prestige” of Los Angeles and San Francisco and suggested the possibility of federal intervention. That same month, the Democratic-run Los Angeles government petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to ask for legal power to forcibly sweep homeless encampments off the streets.

SOFT COSTS

It costs $531,000 per unit to build permanent homes for the homeless under Proposition HHH, the $1.2 billion bond measure approved by voters three years ago, the Los Angeles Controller’s Office said in a report released in October.

High real estate prices – the median value of a home in greater Los Angeles is currently around $650,000 – were only partly to blame, Controller Ron Galperin said in a telephone interview. The biggest financial drains were “soft costs” such as architectural design fees, permitting and inspections.

“These days, to get almost anything built in Los Angeles you need a small army of lawyers and lobbyists,” Galperin said.

The city’s plan to put homeless centers across the metropolitan area sparked a backlash from some residents concerned it could depress real estate values. In the wealthy, beachside neighborhood of Venice, where the median home price approaches $2 million, some residents have gone to court to oppose a homeless center.

On-site facilities to assist the homeless – medical clinics and office space for case managers and social workers – are another cost-driver, city officials say. Those services average $7,000 per unit per year, to be borne by Los Angeles County government.

People coming off the streets have a lot of needs, homeless advocates say.

Like Decoursey, 15 percent of homeless adults were once in foster care, according to the Homeless Services Authority.

A report released this month by the California Policy Lab in Los Angeles, which crunched survey data from 64,000 single adult homeless people across the country, found half of them reported suffering from some combination of physical, mental and substance abuse conditions.

In Los Angeles County, the mortality rate among homeless people has increased for the last five years, with more than 1,000 dying in 2018 from such causes as heart disease and overdosing on drugs, according to the county Department of Public Health.

While shelters have traditionally forbidden drug and alcohol use, officials have begun dropping sobriety requirements for supportive housing, under a model called “housing first” that has been used in Canada and other parts of the United States.

Los Angeles had already built some permanent housing units with support services even before the infusion of $1.2 billion from Proposition HHH. They fill up quickly and generate long waiting lists, city officials said.

NO PETS ALLOWED

Kenny Miles Bard, 61, who was living in his sedan parked on a hilly street in Hollywood, said he did not like the rules or his companions at a shelter he once tried.

“Out here you’re more in control of your own destiny, so to speak, and if there are people you don’t want to be around, you don’t have to be around them,” he said. “You go somewhere else.”

Such reluctance to stay at a shelter is shared by a portion of the homeless population, said Benjamin Henwood, an associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California.

“If the choice is to go into a shelter, they might say ‘no thank you’ because a shelter can be a place where you can get robbed or assaulted or woken up at certain times or have to go to bed at certain times,” he said. “If you actually offer them a private space of their own, the majority of people will take you up on that offer.”

One in seven homeless people in Los Angeles, however, has a pet and may be reluctant to part with it, Henwood said.

One non-profit in Los Angeles, People Assisting the Homeless, is making the shelters it operates more welcoming by allowing pets for emotional support and stepping up security so residents’ possessions are not stolen, said its associate director, Jesus Torres.

At the Hollywood tent encampment, Decoursey, who said she previously battled a cocaine addiction and has been homeless on and off for much of her adult life, mentioned a “street dad” and other transients she considers brothers, sisters, nephews and cousins.

“The circumstances out here are dangerous,” Decoursey said as she scanned her longtime encampment. “The sooner we all can be housed, the better.”

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Dan Grebler)

As winds surge, new wildfire ignites near Reagan Library outside Los Angeles

As winds surge, new wildfire ignites near Reagan Library outside Los Angeles
By Steve Gorman and Jonathan Allen

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A fresh wildfire ignited near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library outside Los Angeles on Wednesday as extraordinarily dry, prolonged Santa Ana winds whipped through the region, forcing meteorologists to grasp for new language to warn of the danger.

The fire broke out in Ventura County’s Simi Valley, just a few miles away from a growing blaze that has been consuming the shrub-covered hills near the Getty Center museum in Los Angeles for two days, displacing thousands of residents from some of the area’s priciest neighborhoods.

For firefighters, the weather forecast could not be worse: The National Weather Service issued an unprecedented “extreme red flag” warning for wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties ahead of two days of intense dry wind gusts.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen us use this warning,” said forecaster Marc Chenard. “It’s pretty bad.”

Statewide, the weather service issued warnings of dangerous fire weather conditions covering more than 34,000 square miles (88,000 square km), encompassing some 21 million people. Scientists have linked an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires to climate change.

The Easy Fire in Simi Valley ignited just before dawn and quickly grew to 972 acres (393 hectares) as it was fanned westward by Santa Ana winds, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. A long wall of orange flames and thick, gray smoke could be seen just down the slope from the hilltop Reagan Library, which houses many of the former president’s records and the plane he used for official travel. At least two helicopters dropped water on the flames.

County fire officials ordered residents to evacuate the area around the library, which includes a number of sprawling ranch properties. Residents in face masks coaxed nervy horses into trailers to drive them to safety.

A number of structures in the area were ablaze, according to video broadcast by local television station ABC 7 News.

A few employees remained at the library, which has fire doors and sprinklers, spokeswoman Melissa Giller told ABC7 News. The library has trucked in goats in years past to eat away flammable scrub around the building’s perimeter.

The Santa Ana winds are a regional weather phenomenon that sends gusts westward off the desert out to the Southern California coast. They are forecast to reach sustained speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour (80 to 110 km per hour) on Wednesday and Thursday, raising the risk of sparks and embers being whipped into fresh wildfires in unburned areas.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said extremely high winds could also force the grounding of water-dropping helicopters, a vital component of the firefighting arsenal.

City arson investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch being blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning. It continued to grow in size, consuming 745 acres (300 hectares) by Wednesday morning, with about a quarter contained by firefighters. At least 12 homes have been destroyed.

Electricity remained cut off to roughly half a million homes and businesses in Northern and Central California on Tuesday as a precaution by the state’s largest utility.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has accused utilities of failing to adequately modernize and safely maintain their power systems.

BLACKOUTS

In Northern California, where firefighters struggled for a sixth day against the 76,000-acre (30,760-hectate) Kincade Fire in Sonoma County’s winemaking region, high-wind forecasts prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co <PCG.N> to impose a new round of blackouts for nearly 600,000 homes and business.

That included about 400,000 customers blacked out in a power shutoff that PG&E instituted days earlier, the company said.

Early Wednesday, PG&E announced that it had restored about 73 percent of the 970,000 or so customers affected in earlier shutoffs.

Utilities serving Southern California’s more urban areas have imposed smaller-scale outages.

PG&E acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire broke out near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line carried by that tower malfunctioned.

The company filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

Citing progress made against the Kincade fire, Newsom said the number of evacuees in Northern California had diminished from 190,000 at the peak of that blaze to 130,000 on Tuesday.

Property losses from the Kincade, listed at 30% contained, were put at 189 homes and other structures, double Monday’s tally.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)