Firefighters move in on Southern California canyon blaze despite high winds

By Dan Whitcomb and Gabriella Borter

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters battling a blaze in a Southern California canyon made some progress toward containment but were up against more high winds and low humidity on Friday, which threatened to stoke the flames as they tore through wooded hillsides.

The Bond Fire, which had forced some 25,000 people in Orange County to evacuate, broke out around 10 p.m. on Wednesday night on the street for which it is named and quickly engulfed Silverado Canyon, egged on by strong Santa Ana winds.

“Firefighters worked through the night extinguishing hot spots, mopping up around structures and stopping the forward spread of this fire,” Captain Paul Holaday of Orange County Fire Authority said in a video posted to Twitter on Friday.

Air and ground units were focused on protecting the canyon communities of Silverado, Santiago, Williams and Modjesca on Friday, Holaday said.

In a Friday morning bulletin, the National Weather Service said a red flag warning for high gusty winds was in effect until 10 p.m. Saturday for the inland portion of Orange County, where officials said the Bond Fire still held claim to some 6,400 acres. The strongest winds were expected Friday morning.

Two firefighters involved in the effort were injured and transported to a local hospital for further treatment, the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter on Thursday.

The blaze was 10% contained as of Friday morning.

Woodsy Silverado Canyon, miles from Southern California’s suburban sprawl up a single winding road, is home to an eclectic mix of residents including artists, horse owners and ranchers.

Fire officials have not yet said what they believe to be the cause of the fire, although Silverado Canyon and Bond Road resident Giovanna Gibson, 60, told Reuters that neighbors believed the blaze ignited when the owners of a home without power tried to start their generator and it exploded.

Since the start of the year, wildfires have scorched more than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square km) of California land, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The yearly land area burned in the western United States has grown eight times larger in less than four decades, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station said in research published last month.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Diane Craft)

Fire sweeps through Southern California canyon, residents flee

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A blaze that ignited overnight in a single-family home injured two firefighters and forced residents of a rustic Southern California canyon to flee their homes on Thursday, as flames tore across some 4,000 acres of dry brush and wooded hillsides.

The Bond Fire, which broke out at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, was driven through Silverado Canyon in Orange County by gusty Santa Ana winds. Authorities issued evacuation warnings to thousands of people.

“There were two firefighters that were injured while battling the Bond Fire this afternoon,” the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter. “They were treated by firefighter paramedics and transported to a hospital for further care.”

The woodsy canyon, miles from Southern California’s suburban sprawl and reached by a single winding road, is home to an eclectic mix of residents including artists, horse owners and ranchers.

Some 500 firefighters aided by water-dropping aircraft battled the flames, which sent smoke drifting across Orange and Los Angels counties, but had not achieved any containment as of mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Fire managers said they believed homes and other structures had been damaged by the blaze but could not yet provide details. Power was knocked out to some 50,000 homes across the region.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation point at a community college near the mouth of the canyon.

Since the start of the year, wildfires have scorched more than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square km) of California land according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The state has grappled with fires of record-breaking intensity and size in recent years and 2020 has been particularly difficult.

“We’re in December and we now have active wildfires still in our state,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press briefing. “These Santa Ana winds have been quite intense.”

The yearly land area burned by severe wildfires in the western United States has grown eight times larger in less than four decades, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station said in research published last month.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Diane Craft and Tom Brown)

California regulator flags concerns over PG&E’s wildfire safety measures

(Reuters) – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has raised concerns over certain deficiencies that it says could affect PG&E Corp’s ability to provide safe and reliable service, the power provider disclosed in a regulatory filing on Wednesday.

The regulator, in a letter to PG&E dated Tuesday, said it will require remediation on specific issues identified in the San Francisco-based utility’s wildfire mitigation plan progress reports.

PG&E emerged from bankruptcy in July, marking an end to a long-drawn restructuring process which began after its equipment sparked some of the deadliest wildfires in California.

CPUC said its concerns arose from what appeared to be a pattern of vegetation and asset management deficiencies.

The regulator said its staff had “identified a volume and rate of defects in PG&E’s vegetation management that is notably higher than those observed for the other utilities.”

CPUC said a fact-finding initiative is underway to determine if the regulator needed to place PG&E into the “enhanced oversight and enforcement process.”

(Reporting by Shradha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

Napa Valley wineries menaced by wildfire, as second California blaze kills three

By Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam

CALISTOGA, Calif. (Reuters) – Firefighters in Northern California on Tuesday struggled to make headway against two fast-moving, destructive wildfires, one threatening towns and wineries in Napa Valley and another that killed three people in the Cascade foothills closer to the Oregon border.

The three fatalities in the so-called Zogg Fire that erupted on Sunday in Shasta County, about 200 miles (322 km) north of San Francisco, were reported Monday evening by the local sheriff. As of Tuesday there were still no details on how or when they perished.

All three were civilians, and their deaths brought to 30 the number of people killed since January – 29 of them just over the past six weeks – in what now stands as the worst year on record for California wildfires in terms of acreage burned

Farther south, the Glass Fire also raged for a third day in wine country, where it destroyed the popular mansion-like Chateau Boswell winery Sunday night and a building at the Castello di Amorosa winery, whose landmark architecture was inspired by a 13th-century Tuscan castle, on Monday.

But wine industry officials said the longer-term ramifications of the Glass Fire and a spate of other blazes that came before it is likely to be a 2020 vintage of diminished volume because of grapes spoiled by heavy exposure to smoke.

Some 80,000 people have been placed under evacuation orders in the middle of harvest season, including all 5,300 residents of Calistoga, a resort town known for its hot springs and mud baths and the site of the Castello di Amorosa complex.

Although both fires were still zero-percent contained, calmer winds could give firefighters an edge on Tuesday despite continuing above-normal heat and low humidity, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, officials said.

The Zogg fire, burning near the town of Redding, has destroyed 146 structures and charred more than 40,000 acres (16,180 hectares) of grassy hillsides and oak woodlands thick with dense, dry scrub. About 15,000 structures were listed as threatened, and 2,200 residents were under evacuation orders or advisories.

After merging with three other blazes, the Glass Fire had spread across more than 42,000 acres (16,990 hectares) in Napa and Sonoma counties, incinerating at least 80 homes and 32 other structures, according to Cal Fire.

Napa Valley residents Matthew Rivard and Amanda Crean parked their car by a sign reading “Welcome to the World Famous Wine Growing Region” on Monday night and watched flames surround the Schramsberg Vineyards, known for its sparkling wines.

WINE COUNTRY HAVOC

A short distance to the northwest, flames destroyed a farmhouse containing a wine-storage chamber, a fermentation room, a bottling facility and offices at the Castello di Amorosa winery, but its distinctive castle complex and tasting room remained unscathed, Chief Executive Georg Salzner said.

The majority of its wine supply, about 100,000 cases stored elsewhere, remained safe, he said. The owner, Dario Sattui, had hurried to the complex before dawn on Monday to find the castle surrounded by flames and called for help, Salzner told Reuters.

“The main building, which was not affected, might have burned down too if it hadn’t been for the firefighters,” he said.

In the heart of Calistoga, the evacuation left its main street, known for boutiques and tasting rooms, looking like a ghost town, according to a Reuters photographer.

As of Wednesday, no wineries were reported to have burned in neighboring Sonoma County, though a “couple of outbuildings and accessory buildings” were damaged, said Michael Haney, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners trade group.

The Glass Fire struck midway through the traditional grape-harvesting season in Napa and Sonoma counties, both world-renowned among California’s wine-producing regions and still reeling from a cluster of large wildfires earlier this summer.

The full effect on the region’s wine business remained to be seen. But Haney said vintners would likely scale back production of certain wines due to smoke exposure to grapes still on the vines when the fires struck.

“I do know there are wineries saying we have been impacted and we won’t be making as much wine,” he said. Several Napa Valley growers said recently they would forgo a 2020 vintage altogether due to smoke contamination of their crop.

The blazes in Shasta County and wine country marked the latest flashpoints in a destructive spate of wildfires this summer across the U.S. West.

California fires have scorched over 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) since January – far exceeding any single year in state history. They have been stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, high winds and dry-lightning sieges that scientists attribute to climate change.

More than 7,000 homes and other structures have burned statewide this year.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam; Additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay and Steve Gorman; Editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

California wine country fire quadruples in size, more evacuations ordered

By Adrees Latif and Jonathan Allen

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) – A wildfire in northern California’s Napa Valley wine country more than quadrupled in size overnight to some 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares), burning homes and vineyards and forcing officials to order thousands of residents to evacuate on Monday.

As the small city of Santa Rosa emptied out around him, Jas Sihota stationed himself on his front porch with his garden hose close at hand, darting out every 15 minutes or so to douse spot fires around neighboring houses seeded by wind-blown embers under a hazy red sun.

Sihota, a radiology technician at a nearby hospital, had not slept in some 24 hours since the blaze, since named the Glass Fire, ignited on Sunday morning near Calistoga about 60 miles (96.5 km) north of San Francisco.

“I wouldn’t have a house if I didn’t stay,” said Sihota, adding that neither would some of his neighbors. At least 10 homes elsewhere on the street beyond the reach of his hose were destroyed.

He weighed when he might finally grab some sleep, wondering if he could stay up perhaps another six hours on adrenaline. “I’m not going to do it till I feel comfortable,” he said.

It was the latest inferno in a historically destructive year throughout the U.S. West. In California alone, wildfires so far have scorched more than 3.7 million acres, far exceeding any single year in state history.

Since Aug. 15, fires in the state have killed 26 people and destroyed more than 7,000 structures. Climate change has contributed to wildfires’ growing intensity, scientists say.

Early on Monday, new evacuation orders were issued in Sonoma and Napa counties, including parts of the cities of Santa Rosa and St. Helena.

Residents at Oakmont Gardens, a retirement community in Santa Rosa, leaned on walkers as they waited to board a bus taking them to safety, their face masks doubling as protection against smoke and the novel coronavirus.

More than a thousand firefighters are battling the Glass Fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), some in planes that trailed red plumes of fire retardant over the region’s famed vineyards. None of it had been contained as of Monday morning, said Cal Fire, which was also monitoring 26 other major wildfires in the state.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning through to the end of Monday, forecasting low humidity and gusts of wind up to 55 miles per hour (89 km per hour) through certain canyons. The fire also prompted evacuation of the 151-bed Adventist Health St. Helena hospital on Sunday for a second time in recent weeks after lightning-sparked blazes swept through the area in August.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Santa Rosa and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Stephen Lam in Santa Rosa and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)

California wine country wildfire forces evacuation of hospital, hundreds of homes

By Stephen Lam and Steve Gorman

ST. HELENA, Calif. (Reuters) – A wind-driven wildfire erupted on Sunday in the heart of northern California’s Napa Valley wine country to spread across nearly 2,000 acres (809 hectares), forcing the evacuation of a hospital and hundreds of homes, authorities said.

Fire crews were out in force, scrambling to fend off flames threatening neighborhoods and vineyards at the northern end of the famed wine-growing valley and surrounding hillsides, about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco.

The blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, broke out before dawn near Calistoga and raced toward the adjacent communities of Deer Park and St. Helena, with flames reaching within a mile of the Adventist Health St. Helena hospital.

All 55 patients there at the time were safely evacuated by ambulance and helicopter over the course of five hours from about 7 a.m., hospital spokeswoman Linda Williams told Reuters.

“We had ambulances lined up from all over the Bay area,” she said, adding that although smoke shrouded the facility, the skies above were clear enough for helicopters’ airlift efforts.

It was the second wildfire-related evacuation of the 151-bed hospital in a month, after a massive cluster of lightning-sparked blazes that swept several counties north of the San Francisco Bay region in August.

Authorities ordered about 600 homes evacuated on Sunday, with residents of 1,400 more warned to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice, said Tyree Zander, a spokesman for the state’s forestry and fire protection department (CalFire). The notices affected at least 5,000 people, he added.

By evening, flames stoked by winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 kph) had scorched about 1,800 acres (728 hectares) of grassy rolling hillsides and oak woodlands, with little or no containment, Zander said.

FIRE AT HARVEST TIME

The cause of the fire is being investigated. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but a Reuters photographer in St. Helena saw some structures that had been burned.

The blaze erupted midway through the traditional grape-harvesting period in the Napa Valley, world renowned as one of California’s premiere wine-producing regions. The area’s 475 wineries account for just 4% of the state’s total annual grape harvest but half of the retail value of all California wines sold, according to the Napa Valley Vintners trade group.

Of Napa’s 16 wine-growing districts, or sub-appellations, the Howell Mountain area may have faced the greatest threat, said Lisa Covey, a spokeswoman for Hall Family Wines, which kept open during the day all its three tasting rooms in the county.

Napa and other wine-growing regions have been hit by wildfires in and around the Bay area for several years. Susan Krausz, co-owner of Arkenstone Estate Vineyards in the Howell Mountain community of Angwin, said it would take days or weeks to assess the impact of the latest blaze on valley vintners.

“Most people have harvested,” she said, but added, “Any time’s a bad time for a fire.”

Tom Kaljian, 78, a realtor who owns a house about halfway between Calistoga and St. Helena, defied evacuation orders to spend the day with his wife hosing down their home and dry brush along a fence line separating their property from the Silverado Trail, a key north-south roadway.

“We were told to get out of here, but I was trying to protect our little abode, so we stayed,” he told Reuters by telephone.

After firefighters told him the house was no longer in danger, he added, “I stopped watering at that point, and came in and took a nap.”

The Glass Fire came as the Pacific Gas and Electric Company said it was temporarily halting power to transmission lines in parts of 16 counties across northern and central California to guard against greater wildfire risks in hot, windy, dry weather.

The public safety power shutoffs were expected to affect about 65,000 regional homes and businesses, said PG&E, the state’s largest electric utility.

A red flag warning for extreme wildfire risks for Napa Valley would run through Monday morning, Zander said.

CalFire said a fire weather watch would start on Monday across much of Southern California, following the forecast return of hot, gusty Santa Ana winds and low humidity.

California wildfires have scorched more than 3.7 million acres in the first nine months of 2020, far exceeding any single year in state history, killing 26 people and destroying more than 7,000 structures.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in St. Helena; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Clarence Fernandez)

Wildfire leaves California’s oldest park too hazardous for visitors

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – The lightning-sparked wildfire that ravaged Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest state park, has left it too dangerous for visitors, officials said Tuesday during a tour of the burned area by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Numerous blazes that grew together near Santa Cruz and razed the visitor center, lodge and nature museum also charred redwood, fir and oak trees, leaving many weakened or dead and likely to fall, parks district Superintendent Chris Spohrer said, according to a pool report provided to news organizations.

It will take a year or more to find and remove all of the trees that pose a danger of falling, Spohrer said.

“If this is not a gut punch, then you’re truly not conscious as a human being,” Newsom, a Democrat, said after the tour of the park established in 1902.

One tree still smoldered near two massive ancient redwoods, dubbed the Mother and Father of the forest.

Another tree, famous for having an opening in its massive trunk large enough for an automobile, suffered moderate to extensive damage during the fire but remains standing. Newsom walked inside, expressing awe at its apparent survival.

The fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains where the park is located broke out Aug. 17 after an hours-long lightning storm that grew into one of more than two dozen major conflagrations that destroyed homes and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate in different parts of California.

Nearly 14,00 lightning strikes, mostly in central and northern California, have ignited hundreds of individual fires since Aug. 15. Those fires have collectively charred more than 1.48 million acres – a landscape larger than the state of Delaware, according to CalFire.

Seven fatalities have been confirmed, and nearly 2,500 homes and other structures have been reduced to ruin.

(Writing by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

New Southern California wildfire expected to linger for days

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Southern California wildfire that engulfed more than 10,000 acres in less than a day was slowed on Thursday by light rains, but is still raging and will remain a formidable threat for several days, firefighters said.

No injuries or deaths have been linked to the Lake Fire, which broke out late on Wednesday in a section of the Angeles National Forest about 60 miles (97 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, but some evacuations have been ordered, they said.

“This will be a major fire for several days,” U.S. Forest Service regional Fire Chief Robert Garcia told reporters.

“The current weather that we started with this morning has helped buy us some time to get some relief crews out there and start developing some preventive control anchor points,” Garcia said.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said the fire destroyed “several structures” of the more than 100 located in the evacuation area in the communities of Palmdale and Castaic.

“Many structures were saved because of the actions of the firefighters last night, who were up all night,” Osby said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, he added.

Officials said an expected return of hot, dry weather later on Thursday, combined with steep terrain in the wooded area, which loaded with dry brush, will continue to hamper the efforts of firefighters.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Ring of fire: Australian state declares emergency as wildfires approach Sydney

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous state declared its second emergency in as many months on Thursday as extreme heat and strong winds stoked more than 100 bushfires, including three major blazes on Sydney’s doorstep.

A day after Australia recorded its hottest day on record, thick smoke blanketed the harbor city, shrouded the Opera House and brought many outdoor activities to a halt.

The state of emergency declaration gave firefighters broad powers to control government resources, force evacuations, close roads and shut down utilities across New South Wales, which is home to more than 7 million people.

Authorities said nearly 120 fires remained ablaze by late afternoon, more than half of which are uncontrolled, and with temperatures forecast to top 45 degrees Celsius (113°F) in some areas, officials warned residents to be on high alert.

“The firefront has been spreading very quickly and intensely,” NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney, adding that two firefighters had been airlifted to hospital with burns to their faces and airways. “It’s still a very difficult and dangerous set of circumstances.”

Days out from Christmas, a time when many Australians head to the coast for the holidays, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian advised people to make sure “you are prepared to change your plans should circumstances change.”

In Shoalhaven, a popular coastal destination some 190 km (120 miles) south of Sydney, local mayor Amanda Findley said people were poised to evacuate.

“There is a large amount of smoke looming over the city, which shows how close the fire is,” Findley told Reuters by telephone. “It is extremely hot and windy now so we are all worried the fire could spread. People are really worried that they may lose everything.”

The RFS posted footage on its official Twitter account showing firefighters tackling one of the three blazes ringing Sydney. A waterbomber aircraft was dwarfed by thick grey and black billowing cloud as it attempted to douse flames in bushland just meters away from homes.

Australia has been battling wildfires across much of its east coast for weeks, leaving six people dead, more than 680 homes destroyed and nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of bushland burnt. Berejiklian said as many as 40 homes had been destroyed on Thursday.

SMOKY SYDNEY

Australia on Wednesday broke all-time heat records for the second day running, with maximum temperatures reaching an average of 41.9 degree Celsius, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Some 1,700 firefighters have been deployed across NSW, but officials warned that was still not enough to cover every potential danger and urged people in high risk areas to evacuate while it was still safe to do so.

The current state of emergency will last for seven days, while a total fire ban that has been in place since Tuesday will remain until midnight on Saturday.

The major fires around Sydney, which is home to more than 5 million people, have resulted in days of heavy pollution in the city usually known for its sparkling harbor and blue skies.

One megafire in the Kanangra Boyd National Park to the city’s southwest had crept to the very outskirts of Campbelltown, a suburb of 157,000 people.

By late afternoon, Sydney was sitting at No.4 on the IQAir AirVisual live rankings of pollution in global cities, above Dhaka, Mumbai, Shanghai and Jakarta.

Many commuters have donned breathing masks in recent weeks as air quality has plunged to hazardous levels not previously seen in the city.

NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said the service had experienced a 10% surge in call-outs for patients suffering respiratory conditions over the past week and urged susceptible people to remain indoors and keep their medication close.

POLITICAL STORM

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has weathered a storm of criticism on social media in recent days for going on an overseas holiday during the emergency, adding to criticism that his government is failing to deliver adequate climate change policies.

As local media reported Morrison was in Hawaii on a family holiday, about 500 protesters gathered outside his official Sydney residence to demand urgent action on climate change. Morrison’s office refused to confirm his whereabouts.

One protestor, wearing an Hawaiian shirt, carried a sign reading, “ScoMo, where the bloody hell are you?” referencing the leader’s nickname and a decade-old international advertisement for Tourism Australia that was banned in several countries because the language was deemed offensive.

Australia’s low-lying Pacific neighbors have been particularly critical of the coal-rich nation’s climate policies following modest progress at the U.N. climate talks in Madrid.

“It was particularly disappointing to see our Pacific cousins in Australia actively standing in the way of progress at a time when we have been watching in horror as their own country is ablaze,” Marshall Islands president Hilda Heine said in a statement on Wednesday.

(Reporting by John Mair, Colin Packham and Jonathan Barrett; Writing by Wayne Cole; Editing by Jane Wardell)

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)