California firefighters take offensive against blazes

California firefighters battling a fire north of Los Angeles on Friday. Winds gusting at speeds of up 112kmh gave way to light breezes on Thursday, slowing the fires' advance, but the lull was expected to be short-lived.
California firefighters battling a fire north of Los Angeles on Friday. Winds gusting at speeds of up 112kmh gave way to light breezes on Thursday, slowing the fires' advance, but the lull was expected to be short-lived.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • California firefighters, aided by subsiding winds, took the offensive against two major wildfires at opposite ends of the state, one displacing 50,000 suburban Los Angeles residents and the other roaring through Sonoma county's famed wine country.

Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday declared an emergency for both blazes, which erupted hours apart amid fierce winds last week that put emergency managers on high alert and prompted power suppliers to impose wide-scale outages to curtail wildfire risks.

The two blazes, the worst of several large wildfires across the state last week, have destroyed dozens of homes and other structures while prompting air-quality alerts in parts of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.

The dry, hot desert winds, gusting at speeds of up to 112kmh, gave way to light breezes on Thursday night, slowing the fires' advance and presenting crews with a chance to make significant headway against the flames. But the lull was expected to be short-lived.

Even as Pacific Gas & Electric worked to restore electricity to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses switched off ahead of the week's earlier bout of severe winds, the utilities company announced plans for a new round of precautionary blackouts expected to leave 850,000 customers without power across 36 counties in northern and central California.

By Friday, the Kincade fire had charred nearly 8,900ha in a wine-growing region whose better-known vintners include The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, and destroyed at least 49 dwellings and other structures, officials said.

"Scary, crazy. We've lived here 37 years and never had to evacuate. So, you know, you always hear about it, you always think, maybe this time. But, yeah, this is the first time," evacuee Terri Egar in Santa Clarita said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 27, 2019, with the headline 'California firefighters take offensive against blazes'. Print Edition | Subscribe