(Reuters) – A pair of wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes near Los Angeles and forced thousands of residents to evacuate, fire officials and local media reported on Friday, days after power cuts were ordered across the state to prevent fires.
In the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the so-called Saddleridge fire had spread to more than 4,000 acres by early Friday morning and was completely uncontained, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. More than 12,500 homes and some 100,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders on Friday morning, local TV station ABC 7 reported.
“Once daylight comes, a more accurate assessment can be performed,” the Los Angeles Fire Department said in a pre-dawn Twitter message. “A number of homes have been destroyed by fire but the estimated number is not available at this time.”
Authorities were also fighting overnight to contain the Sandalwood Fire in Riverside County, which had scorched about 500 acres near Calimesa, about 70 miles east of downtown Los Angeles by early Friday. It was only 10 percent contained as of early Friday, Riverside County Fire Department (RCFD) officials said.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries from the latest blazes, among about 275 wildfires that have broken out across California as hot, gusty winds signaled the start of its peak fire season, state officials said.
It comes a year after the deadliest and most destructive ever seasons recorded in California, with about 100 residents and firefighters killed in 2018. More than 8,500 wildfires erupted last year, scorching more than 1.8 million acres and causing billions of dollars of damage.
In the San Fernando Valley, heavy winds fanned the fast-moving Saddleridge Fire, which hopped major roads as it raced west toward Ventura County and the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility in Porter Ranch, the site of an enormous gas leak in 2015.
The blaze was threatening homes in Sylmar and Porter Ranch, two neighborhoods on the northwest outskirts of Los Angeles, where authorities called in bulldozers, helicopters and other heavy equipment to battle the blaze.
It had set several homes and power lines ablaze and prompted the California Highway Patrol to shut down portions of several highways.
The Sandlewood blaze, named after a local landmark, 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, or Cal Fire, said in a statement.
Firefighters have been able to quickly contain most of the other blazes that erupted across California.
The risk to life and property prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co cut power to about 730,000 customers, a move that California Governor Gavin Newsom blamed on years of mismanagement by the utility.
By late Thursday, PG&E announced it had restored power to more than half of those affected, and about 312,000 remained without electricity.
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, a similar cutoff was under way by Southern California Edison, which warned more than 173,000 customers that they could lose power.
Much of northern California, from San Francisco to the Oregon border, remains under a state “red flag” fire alert.
The National Weather Service said the hot gusty winds that usually hit northern California in October, sometimes called the “Diablo Winds,” would persist through Friday.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Rich McKay, Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Pravin Char and Nick Zieminski)