A massive blaze forced nearly 200,000 people out of their homes and a power shutoff left about a million in the dark across Northern California on Sunday.
The utility company behind the shutoff said some customers may remain without power until Thursday, following another possible planned outage later this week.
The fire’s flames were fanned by what Gov. Gavin Newsom called a “historic” wind event, adding “fire weather conditions are unprecedented due to the scale, scope, wind speed and dry fuel conditions.”
“We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires,” he said in a statewide emergency declaration. “It is critical that people in evacuation zones heed the warnings from officials and first responders.”
The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County has so far scorched more than 54,000 acres and destroyed nearly 100 structures. It was only 5% contained late Sunday, officials said, down from 10% over the weekend.
Driven by hurricane-force winds, the fire grew at a rate of one football field every three seconds when it first ignited on Wednesday, CNN’s meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
Winds had slowed Sunday night but were still strong, reaching up to 25 mph around Napa, Vacaville and Santa Rosa while gusts reached 35 mph. The highest gust across the county Sunday was 93 mph, forecasters said.
Powerful winds will continue into Monday morning before getting weaker, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.
There was a second blaze burning in the state late Sunday. The Tick Fire, near Santa Clarita in the southern portion of the state, had destroyed 24 residences and damaged another 36, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said, adding the fire was 70% contained.
In response to the winds, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) shut off power to about 965,000 customers in northern portions of the state. An additional 100,000 lost power for other reasons, said Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s incident commander.
About 30,000 had their power restored early Monday morning, PG&E said. But other customers may be without power for a while.
The company said Sunday it was looking at another “widespread, strong and dry wind event” Tuesday through Wednesday which could prompt another public safety power shutoff.
“PG&E will make every effort to restore power to as many customers as possible who are currently out of power,” the company said Monday morning. “However, due to the dynamic and changing weather conditions, and high fire risk, some customers who are currently out of power may remain out throughout the duration of the next potential PSPS event.”
The next shutoff could affect parts of 32 counties in Northern California, the company said.
The upcoming wind system will push through the state Tuesday, Guy said, and Northern California will bear the brunt of it.
Though winds aren’t forecast to be as strong as the current system, it’ll still create dangerous fire conditions.
Evacuees struggling to find shelter
The state’s governor estimated about 180,000 people had evacuated their homes because of the Kincade Fire, which was continuing to destroy Northern California’s wine country into early Monday.
Many people fled into neighboring areas like Marin County and struggled to find shelter, CNN affiliate KPIX reported.
“Where do you put 200,000 people?” said Bill Lembcke, who slept with his wife in their car once they arrived in the county. “We kind of freaked out because we had the fires in 2017. We could see that fire coming over the ridge line toward our house.”
Many got the order to evacuate before dawn Sunday and lined up outside the Marin County Emergency Shelter by the time the sun rose.
“It is detrimental to the firefighters trying to do something about this to be in their way,” one evacuee, Renee Carriere, told the news station. “So we hopped on the road — for four hours — with three cats.”
The Red Cross estimated that about 10,000 would need emergency shelter, the affiliate reported. The Marin emergency shelter had room for 300.
To help those displaced by the threat, more than 700 Airbnb hosts opened their homes and rental properties across Northern California, Airbnb said.
Hosts will keep their homes open to evacuees and relief workers until November 7.
Schools will be closed
All 40 public school districts across Sonoma County be closed Monday and Tuesday because of the fire, the Sonoma County Office of Education said.
The closures come “due to the uncertainty around the availability of power, evacuations of students and staff, fire threat, and air quality concerns,” the office said.
“Sonoma County school districts will reassess the need to be closed Wednesday-Friday based on individual circumstances and changing conditions. Any updates on school closures for the week will be shared by SCOE each afternoon at 4:00 p.m.,” it said.