Rising California winds trigger new wildfires and power outages
High winds swept across California again on Tuesday after cutting down trees, stoking forest fires and cutting power to about 21,000 customers in the northern and central regions.
Red flag warnings of dangerous fire conditions continued in mountains, valleys, canyons and deserts due to the dry and windy weather. Winds of 25 mph (40 km / h) with gusts up to 70 mph (112 km / h) were expected in the early evening Tuesday.
Pacific Gas & Electric has cut power to approximately 21,000 customers in 20 counties in central and northern California to reduce the risk that power lines could be knocked down, causing wildfires.
PG&E equipment was blamed for a fire in 2018 that wiped out much of the town of Paradise in Butte County. The company filed for bankruptcy and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter. PG&E also faces numerous criminal charges for fires caused by its unraveling equipment, including manslaughter charges filed last month in connection with a wildfire near the town of Redding last year that killed four people.
At least half a dozen fires broke out across the state on Monday. Most stayed small, but a fire west of Santa Barbara on the Los Angeles coast quickly spread to thousands of acres. The fire burned in a dense chaparral through an area of ranches, canyons and parks.
The flames caused the mandatory evacuation of El Capitan State Park as well as campsites, cattle and horse ranches near Refugio State Beach, and US 101 – the only highway along the coast – a closed as the blaze moved south toward the ocean, US Forest Service spokesman Andrew Madsen said.
On the central coast, a tree fell on power lines at Hearst San Simeon State Park, causing a small fire in the brush, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection tweeted. And high winds toppled a tree, destroying three parked cars and damaging a house in the coastal town of El Granada, in San Mateo County, CalFire said. However, no injuries were reported.
Windy weather is a nightmare for firefighters in a state where heat waves and historic drought linked to climate change have dried up forests and brush. The fires that started in late summer are still burning after destroying hundreds of homes.
In the Sierra Nevada, the so-called KNP complex fires may have burned hundreds of giant sequoias in the groves of Sequoia National Park and were only 30% contained. On Monday, a firefighter with a hand crew working on the blaze was struck by a rolling stone. The firefighter was airlifted to a hospital and is in stable condition, firefighters said.
The National Weather Service said the blown dust was widespread from the Sacramento Valley, through the San Joaquin Valley and into the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. Caltrans said sections of State Route 138 near the town of Lancaster in the Antelope Valley and State Route 14 were closed due to the dust storm and several overturned trucks blocking the roadway.