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)

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)

Homes destroyed, hundreds more evacuated as Los Angeles wildfires spread

Fire is seen in Simi Valley, California, U.S. October 30, 2019, in this social media image. Courtesy of Twitter @415FirePhoto/Social Media via REUTERS.

Homes destroyed, hundreds more evacuated as Los Angeles wildfires spread
By Omar Younis

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (Reuters) – More wildfires ignited near Los Angeles on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing evacuations, as the region faced a second day of gusting desert winds that have fanned flames and displaced thousands of people.

The fast-moving Hillside Fire grew to 200 acres (80 hectares) and was starting to consume homes near scrub-covered slopes in San Bernadino, east of Los Angeles, according to the San Bernadino County Fire Department.

At least six homes were destroyed or damaged and about 1,300 people had been ordered to evacuate. A helicopter and a small plane dropped water and retardant on the flames, according to Chris Prater, a fire department spokesman. A smaller brush fire was also reported in Jurupa Valley.

“The winds have probably been the biggest factor promoting this fire spread,” he said.

The region’s Santa Ana winds have been so extraordinarily dry, powerful and prolonged that the National Weather Service created a new alert level, issuing an “extreme red flag warning” through Thursday evening in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Two other major fires have charred the region since the start of the week.

The Getty Fire broke out near the Getty Center art museum in Los Angeles on Monday morning, burning chaparral up and down the mountain slopes around a major highway.

Officials ordered the evacuation of more than 10,000 homes in some of the city’s richest neighborhoods, although they began allowing some people to return on Wednesday as about 40% of the 745-acre (300-hectare) fire was brought under control.

The Easy Fire ignited early on Wednesday, sending flames racing up to the walls of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library atop a mountain in Ventura County’s Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles. Some 30,000 residents were ordered to evacuate, along with an unknown number of horses in an area that is known for its ranches. County schools remained closed on Thursday.

Officials at the Getty Center and the Reagan Library were confident both complexes would be unscathed, thanks to various fire-prevention systems. These include, in the case of the Reagan Library, an annual visit by a herd of goats that eats away the surrounding flammable scrub. On Wednesday, helicopters doused the area around the library with water.

No injuries have been reported in the fires, although at least a dozen homes in Los Angeles have burned down.

The Santa Ana winds arrive in the autumn, sending hot, dry air down from the mountains out to the Southern California coast. Gusts of 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) were recorded in mountainous areas around Los Angeles, and more powerful winds were forecast for Thursday morning.

Tens of thousands of people in the region were without power after a precautionary shutdown by the Pacific Gas & Electric Co <PCG.N>.

Investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch that was blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA FIRE

In northern California, firefighters have been fighting the 76,000-acre (30,760-hectare) Kincade Fire in Sonoma County’s wine country for more than a week. That blaze has destroyed at least 189 homes and other structures but was listed as 30% contained on Wednesday.

PG&E acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire started near a damaged transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line on 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.

As many as 190,000 people were displaced at the height of the Kincade Fire, but some evacuation orders have since been lifted.

(Reporting by Omar Younis in Simi Valley, California, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and Frances Kerry)

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)

Dangerous dry winds forecast to sweep into fire-plagued Los Angeles

Dangerous dry winds forecast to sweep into fire-plagued Los Angeles
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Extraordinarily dry, prolonged Santa Ana winds are predicted to gust through Southern California on Wednesday, prompting strong warnings from meteorologists as residents contend with damaging wildfires.

It was a daunting forecast for firefighters battling a 600-acre (240-hectare) blaze consuming the shrub-covered hills near the Getty Center museum in Los Angeles that has displaced thousands of residents. A new brush fire erupted on Wednesday morning in nearby Simi Valley in Ventura County, prompting officials to order mandatory evacuations in the suburbs around the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The National Weather Service issued an “extreme red flag” warning for wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“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 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.

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.

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

GAINING GROUND

An army of some 1,100 firefighters battled the Getty fire Tuesday in a narrow window of slower winds. By early Wednesday, crews had managed to contain about 15 percent of the blaze.

In Northern California, where firefighters struggled for a sixth day against a 76,000-acre (30,760-hectate) blaze 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 highly urbanized areas have imposed smaller-scale outages.

PG&E has been implicated in the Sonoma County blaze, dubbed the Kincade fire. The utility 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 15% contained, were put at 189 homes and other structures, double Monday’s tally.

The size of the Getty fire’s evacuation zone was reduced by roughly 3,000 homes on Tuesday but residents of about 7,000 homes remained displaced, fire officials said. At least a dozen homes have been destroyed so far.

(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 and Jonathan Oatis)

As wildfire rages in Los Angeles, city tells wealthy to warn staff of dangers

As wildfire rages in Los Angeles, city tells wealthy to warn staff of dangers
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wildfire raged through some of Los Angeles’ upscale neighborhoods on Tuesday, prompting city officials to chide wealthy evacuees to remember to tell their housekeepers and gardeners not to enter the danger zone.

Wind-driven blazes were burning largely uncontrolled in tinder-dry areas around Los Angeles as well as further north in California’s wine country.

Firefighters were battling to try to save thousands of imperiled homes as thousands of residents fled the area.

Los Angeles officials reminded wealthy evacuees to alert their service employees of the danger in light of news reports that several turned up for work at some of the 10,000 homes and businesses under smoky skies in the mandatory evacuation zone.

“I want to encourage people to be reaching out to anybody who may be showing up at their home and urge them to stay away,” Councilmember Mike Bonin told a news conference on Tuesday morning.

The brush fire that broke out early on Monday near the Getty Center art museum on the city’s West Side grew about 40 acres (16 hectares) overnight to 658 acres (266 hectares), Mayor Eric Garcetti told a news conference.

“That’s a good sign, actually, that it didn’t grow by more,” he said. Eight homes have been destroyed so far.

Across the state, hundreds of thousands of people were left in the dark as power companies cut off electricity to try to prevent more fires from being sparked by snapped cabling in the brushland.

Los Angeles Lakers basketball great LeBron James, “Terminator” actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well other celebrities, said on Twitter they had been forced to evacuate their homes.

Weather forecasters say there could be worse to come, with the National Weather Service (NWS) predicting gusting winds in the mountains around Los Angeles, where planes have been dousing the fire from the air.

The Santa Ana winds in the south could hit their worst levels of the season and last into late Thursday, according to Marc Chenard of the NWS Weather Prediction Center.

Until at least Wednesday, in the bone-dry wine country about 70 miles (113 km) north of San Francisco, winds will hit up to 65 mph (101 kph) in the mountain areas and 35 mph (56 kph) in the valleys and coast around where the Kincade Fire, the state’s biggest, is burning, he said.

POWER CUTS

Pacific Gas and Electric Company <PCG.N> said early on Tuesday that almost 600,000 more electric customers would have their power shut off, starting early in the day, as a fire prevention measure ahead of the wind storms.

This is on top of the 970,000 PG&E customers already shut off, although about half of those were restored by Monday night, the company announced.

After four days of sharp declines, PG&E shares rebounded, up 17% at $4.49 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

As of early Tuesday, the Kincade fire had scorched more than 75,000 acres (30,351 hectares), destroyed 123 homes and other structures and was 15 percent contained as it burned across parts of Sonoma County’s wine country, state fire officials said.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said he was confident that firefighters had secured enough perimeters around the Kincade fire that it no longer posed an imminent threat to two communities north of Santa Rosa, although he conceded the fight was not over.

The cause of the Kincade fire in Sonoma County, where 190,000 people were ordered to evacuate, remains under investigation.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman, Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Noel Randewich in San Francisco; Editing by Scott Malone and Sandra Maler)

New Fast-moving Los Angeles wildfire destroys homes, prompts evacuation orders

Fast-moving Los Angeles wildfire destroys homes, prompts evacuation orders
(Reuters) – Thousands of people in Los Angeles were ordered to evacuate after a fast-moving brush fire ignited early on Monday morning near the Getty Center museum, the latest outbreak in a wildfire season that has scorched parts of California.

Spot fires break out on a hillside as the Getty Fire burns in west Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Spot fires break out on a hillside as the Getty Fire burns in west Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

The fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) and has since grown to consume more than 500 acres (202 hectares) in the scrub-covered hills around Interstate 405, near some of the city’s most expensive homes. Commuters posted videos of slopes aglow with orange flames close to the road’s edge.

At least five homes had burned down but there were no reported injuries, Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters at a news conference with fire officials, warning that he expected the number to rise.

“This is a fire that quickly spread,” he said, urging residents in the evacuation zone, which encompasses more than 3,300 homes, to get out quickly.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who lives in the area, said he had heeded the warning and had been driving around before dawn with his family looking for shelter.

“Finally found a place to accommodate us!” he wrote a short time later on Twitter. “Crazy night man!”

Officials at the Getty art museum said the fire was burning to the north of the building, which was designed with thick stone walls to prevent fire from damaging its treasures.

The fierce winds fanning wildfires elsewhere in the state, including a large fire consuming parts of the picturesque wine country north of San Francisco, were expected to abate on Monday.

But forecasters with the National Weather Service said high winds would return later in the week and could be the strongest so far this year in the south of the state.

Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center, said wind gusts in northern California would abate by midday and in the south of the state by later in the afternoon.

Wind gusts can be between 50 to 60 miles per hour (80-96 kph), with some significantly higher, he said.

The northern California wine country has borne the brunt of the fires, with 84 square miles (218 sq km) burned and 190,000 people evacuated in the Kincade fire.

Only about 5% of that fire was contained early on Monday after crews lost ground against the wind-driven wildfire a day earlier.

About 3,000 people were battling the Kincade Fire, the worst of more than a dozen major blazes that have damaged or destroyed nearly 400 structures and prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency.

Investigators have not yet said what they believed caused the blaze, although it ignited near a broken wire on a Pacific Gas & Electric <PCG.N> transmission tower.

POWER OUTAGES

More than a million homes and businesses were without power on Monday morning, most of those from planned outages. Forecasts of high winds had prompted PG&E to shut off power to 940,000 customers in 43 counties on Saturday night to guard against the risk of touching off wildfires.

PG&E expects to issue a weather all clear for safety inspections and restoration work to begin early Monday morning for the northern Sierras and North Coast, the company said.

The governor has been sharply critical of PG&E, saying corporate greed and mismanagement kept it from upgrading its infrastructure while wildfire hazards have steadily worsened over the past decade.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, citing billions of dollars in civil liabilities from deadly wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Healdsburg, California, additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Bill Berkrot)

Fast-moving fires near Los Angeles force more than 40,000 to flee

Fast-moving fires near Los Angeles force more than 40,000 to flee
By Stephen Lam

GEYSERVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – California firefighters on Friday sought to take advantage of a brief lull in high winds behind fast-moving wildfires that forced the evacuation of more than 40,000 residents north of Los Angeles and another 2,000 in the state’s wine country.

With winds abating, crews worked overnight to battle a newly-started fire about 40 miles (64 km) north of Los Angeles that was threatening 10,000 homes and businesses, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.

Officials warned residents not to be deceived by the overnight lull, as the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast a pickup in hot, dry winds by Friday morning with gusts of 45 to 55 mph (72 to 89 kph) and temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

“Let’s not let our guard down,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. She told a press conference 40,000 to 50,000 residents had been forced from homes by late Thursday with “numerous” structures destroyed.

California’s wildfires generally erupt in the fall as hot, dry Santa Ana winds blow westward from the desert after a dry summer. Last year, at least 85 people died in one of the deadliest such fires, known as the Camp Fire in Butte County.

The so-called Tick Fire, which began Thursday afternoon just outside the city of Santa Clarita, had consumed about 4,000 acres and was only 5 percent contained as of late Thursday, the county fire department said.

Another burst of high winds was expected over the weekend, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

To the north, where firefighters were battling a smattering of blazes, crews had restored power to most of the nearly 200,000 homes and businesses intentionally left in the dark because of risk of high winds downing electrical lines.

DAMAGED ELECTRICITY TOWER

Power had been shut off to residents from the Sierra Foothills to the North Bay and San Mateo and Kern counties.

But by early Friday, Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E) said it restored power to most of its 178,000 customers in portions of 18 counties shut off, and it expected to have the rest reconnected by the end of the day.

While the cause of the worst of the blazes, the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, has not been determined, it appears to have erupted near the base of a damaged high-voltage transmission tower owned by PG&E.

The company, a unit of bankrupt holding company PG&E Corp <PCG.N>, said in an “electric safety incident” report to the California Public Utilities Commission that one of its power lines malfunctioned at about the time and in the location of the fire’s origin on Wednesday night.

Neither PG&E nor the commission said whether the damaged tower or the malfunctioning transmission line attached to it were suspected of igniting the blaze, which has destroyed about a dozen homes and other structures.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said it is investigating. It listed the same place and time of origin for the fire as the tower incident reported by PG&E.

By early Friday, the Kincade fire had scorched about 16,000 acres and forced some 2,000 people to flee their homes, Cal Fire said.

No injuries have been reported and only 800 acres had been contained, it said.

Mandatory evacuations began with the 900 residents of historic Geyserville on Thursday, and continued climbing to 2,000 across Sonoma County through the day, the county sheriff’s office said.

Geyserville and nearby Healdsburg, part of which was under an evacuation warning, are hubs of upscale restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, inns and shops surrounded by hills dotted with vineyards about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Geyserville; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Cawthorne)

More than half a million Californian customers may face power outages

More than half a million Californian customers may face power outages
By Subrat Patnaik and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – More than half a million homes and businesses in California could lose power this week as utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)  and Southern California Edison(SCE) cut off electricity as a preventive measure against wildfires.

Over 308,000 customers in seven counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura in southern California, are under the Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) consideration, Southern California Edison said.

Shutoffs from SCE could start early Thursday.

Meanwhile, PG&E has shut off power in 15 counties, affecting about 178,000 customers in those areas. The company said additional power shutoffs for parts of San Mateo County and Kern County were expected to begin at about 1 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Thursday, affecting more than 1,000 customers.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co has also identified more than 41,000 customers under PSPS consideration, but has not implemented any power shutoffs on Thursday.

Forecaster Marc Chenard said the worst of the winds would arrive on Thursday afternoon and into Friday.

“It looks like at its worst, southern California will see wind gusts of 55 mph. Down in some of the coastal areas the winds could reach 75 mph later today,” he said.

Power lines could be knocked down and start fires among dry trees and vegetation, according to earlier forecasts.

Bankrupt Californian power producer PG&E cut off electricity to more than 730,000 homes and workplaces in northern California earlier this month to try to reduce wildfire risks posed by extremely windy and dry weather.

Chenard added that northern California could experience dangerous wind gusts of up to 45 mph. “This is not going to abate until at least this weekend.”

Wildfires were also growing through the night in Sonoma County, about 65 miles north of San Francisco, which is popular with tourists visiting wine-producing areas in California.

By early Thursday morning, the fire had grown to 7,000 acres, and more evacuations were ordered overnight in and near Geyserville, officials said. No injuries had been reported.

Evacuation warnings were issued before midnight in some communities as the wind-driven fires moved toward tourist towns including Healdsburg, officials said.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Wind-driven Los Angeles wildfire leaves one dead, forces 100,000 to flee

 

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A fierce, wind-driven wildfire swept through foothills and canyons along the northern edge of Los Angeles on Friday, engulfing homes, closing roads and devouring acre upon acre of dry brush and chaparral as 100,000 residents were forced to flee.

At least one death was attributed to the fire, a man who authorities said suffered a heart attack while trying to battle encroaching flames.

The blaze, dubbed the Saddleridge fire, had charred more than 4,700 acres by Friday morning, 12 hours after it ignited and then grew quickly into the largest and most ferocious among a spate of wildfires across Southern California.

As water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying fire retardant fought the flames from the air, ground crews battled the blaze at close range with hand tools and bulldozers, while firefighters lugging hoses from house to house scrambled to protect threatened neighborhoods.

One community at greatest risk was Porter Ranch, which lies adjacent to the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field where a wellhead rupture caused a massive methane leak in 2015. U.S. Representative Brad Sherman, who lives in Porter Ranch, told Reuters he was among residents who fled as flames approached.

“I left a bit earlier than most because I was watching the news, and the moment they posted on the internet that I was in the mandatory evacuation area, I was out,” Sherman said by mobile phone as he walked back toward his home.

“It’s smoke from miles away from my home, a lot of smoke. I don’t see any flames. I see helicopter drops,” he added.

The conflagration was stoked by strong, dry Santa Ana winds blowing into the Los Angeles area from desert areas separated from the city by mountains to the east. The winds were moving the flames at a rate of 800 acres per hour, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said at a morning news conference.

“This is a very dynamic fire,” Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters, as he urged residents in harm’s way to heed evacuation orders. “Do not wait to leave.”

Los Angeles County Fire Captain Tony Imbrenda told local radio station KPCC that high winds also were making it more difficult to effectively fight the flames from the air, causing dissipation of water and fire-retardant drops before they could hit the ground.

Similarly strong winds in northern and central California prompted utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric to impose a precautionary shutoff of power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses to reduce the risk of wildfires. Governor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday the unprecedented measure faulted the utility for what he called years of mismanagement.

At daybreak, the Saddleridge fire was still completely uncontained and its cause was under investigation.

Some 23,000 homes and around 100,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders that were expected to remain in effect for at least a few days, fire officials said. A number of emergency shelters quickly filled to capacity, as evacuees wondered whether their homes were still standing.

“They don’t know what’s going on. They’ve been evacuated, and that’s all they know,” Michelle Gross, the director of a Red Cross shelter set up at the Granada Hills Recreation Center, said when reached by phone.

The fire prompted several freeway closures in the northern part of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. At least 25 homes in two neighborhoods were destroyed early on Friday, authorities said.

About 70 miles to the east, authorities also fought to gain an upper hand on the Sandalwood Fire in Riverside County, which had scorched about 830 acres and destroyed 76 homes and other structures by Friday around the town of Calimesa.

One fatality was reported, along with two people who were unaccounted for. The blaze was just 10% contained, Riverside County Fire Department (RCFD) officials said.

The Sandalwood fire erupted on Thursday afternoon when a garbage truck dumped burning trash that spread onto vegetation, the RCFD and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement.

POWER CUTS

Much of Northern California, from San Francisco to the Oregon border, remained under a statewide “red flag” fire alert for heightened fire danger on Friday.

Firefighters have been able to quickly contain most of the other blazes around the state.

By late Thursday, PG&E announced it had restored power to more than half of its customers whose power was turned off, and that 312,000 remained without electricity.

More than 250,000 California households and businesses were without power on Friday morning, PowerOutage.US reported, nearly all of them PG&E customers in northern California.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from major wildfires linked to its transmission wires and other equipment.

As winds moved south Friday, a power cutoff similar to PG&E’s was underway at Southern California Edison, which warned more than 173,000 customers they could face outages.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Rich McKay, Andrew Hay, Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Andrew Hay; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Pravin Char, Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown)