New evacuations for 50,000 people near California wildfire

New evacuations for 50,000 people near California wildfire

Entire communities of Healdsburg and Windsor have been ordered to evacuate

New evacuations have been ordered for at least 50,000 people near a huge wildfire and millions of Californians prepared to live in the dark again as the state’s largest utility warned it might cut power for the third time in as many weeks because of looming strong winds and high fire danger.

Pacific Gas & Electric said it would decide early Saturday whether to black out 850,000 homes and businesses in 36 counties for 48 hours or longer throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, wine country and Sierra foothills. The utility hadn’t made an announcement by mid-morning.

The entire communities of Healdsburg and Windsor were ordered to evacuate ahead of severe winds that could lead to erratic fire behaviour near the blaze burning in wine country.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said it is expected to be the biggest evacuation in the county in more than 25 years.

“The winds are expected anywhere between 8 p.m. and midnight and from all reports they’re expected to be extremely strong,” said Brian Vitorelo with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Two previous power shutdowns were done amid concern that gusty winds could disrupt or knock down power lines and spark devastating wildfires.

Weather forecasts called for strong winds to lash much of the region over the weekend, with some gusts hitting 85 mph (137 kph). It might be a record wind event, the National Weather Service warned.

PG&E’s warning came as firefighters battled flames in Northern and Southern California.

A blaze Thursday destroyed at least six homes in the Santa Clarita area near Los Angeles and led to evacuation orders for up to 50,000 residents, although many were allowed back home after Santa Ana winds began to ease.

To the north, firefighters raced to make progress against a blaze near Geyserville in Sonoma County before ferocious “diablo winds” returned. The fire had burned 49 buildings, including 21 homes, and swept through nearly 40 square miles (104 square kilometres) of the wine-growing region. It was 10% contained by Saturday morning.

Several thousand people living in small communities in neighbouring Lake County were warned to be ready to evacuate if an order is given. The area was the scene of a 2015 wildfire that killed four people and burned nearly 2,000 homes and other buildings.

High winds this weekend could ground water-dropping aircraft, disperse fire retardant and drive hot embers far ahead of the flames to set new blazes, Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathan Cox said.

“You can’t fight a fire that’s spotting ahead of itself a quarter of a mile, half a mile, in some cases a mile ahead of itself,” he said.

No cause has been determined for any of the current fires, but PG&E said a 230,000-volt transmission line near Geyserville had malfunctioned minutes before that fire erupted Wednesday night.

The utility acknowledged that the discovery of the tower malfunction had prompted a change in its strategy.

“We have revisited and adjusted some of our standards and protocols in determining when we will de-energize high-voltage transmission lines,” Andrew Vesey, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said at a briefing Friday.

The weekend forecasts detail what could be the strongest winds of the year coupled with bone-dry humidity.

“These places we all love have effectively become tinderboxes,” Vesey said. “Any spark, from any source, can lead to catastrophic results. We do not want to become one of those sources.”

The possible link between the wine country fire and a PG&E transmission line contained grim parallels to a catastrophic fire last year that tore through the town of Paradise, killing 85 people and destroying thousands of homes in the deadliest U.S. fire in a century.

State officials concluded that fire was sparked by a PG&E transmission line.

Asherah Davidown, 17, of Magalia and her family lost their house, two dogs and a car in the Paradise fire. She said her family was preparing for another power outage by filling the gas tank of their car and buying non-perishable foods and batteries for their flashlights.

The outages reminded her of her family’s vulnerable position as they struggle to get back on their feet.

“My house doesn’t have a generator so that means another weekend of sitting in the dark with no Wi-Fi, no food in the fridge and shopping in increments since we don’t know how long the power may be out,” Davidown said.

The continuing round of power outages made her feel somewhat vulnerable as her family tries to get back on its feet, she said.

“For the most part a lot of people feel really helpless. Their livelihoods are at the fingertips of a corporation,” she said. “There’s still a lot of hurt and emotional recovery. Having our basic needs repeatedly taken away is really unfortunate.”

Daisy Nguyen And Stefanie Dazio, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

An air tanker drops retardant behind the Newhall Church of the Nazarene while battling the Saddleridge Fire in Newhall, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The wildfire is raging along the northern border of Los Angeles as powerful Santa Ana winds sweep Southern California. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

An air tanker drops retardant behind the Newhall Church of the Nazarene while battling the Saddleridge Fire in Newhall, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. The wildfire is raging along the northern border of Los Angeles as powerful Santa Ana winds sweep Southern California. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Just Posted

Karilyn, right, with her older sister, Sabrina. Both siblings are members of the YANA family, after being helped by the community organization on separate occasions. Photo supplied
Siblings both members of the YANA family

Comox Valley non-profit helped Geiger family on separate occasions

A second-floor balcony continues to smoulder after a fire extinguisher was used to get a small balcony fire under control at the Washington Inn Apartments. Brian Hayward, who lives on the third floor, was alerted to the fire by the smell of smoke wafting into his apartment. Photo by Brian Hayward.
Courtenay firefighters respond to balcony fire at Washington Inn Apartments

Firefighters were called out to the Washington Inn Apartments Sunday, April 17,… Continue reading

RCMP forensics investigators scour the site north of Highland School in Comox, where multiple people were stabbed during a party Saturday night, April 16. Photo by Terry Farrell
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Comox bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault near Highland Secondary

Cumberland is surrounded by trees — and logging. Its council is supporting a call to stop old-growth logging in vulnerable areas of the province such as Fairy Creek. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland backs request to save B.C.’s old-growth forests

The Comox Youth Climate Council is asking local governments to take stand

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Valley woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

First in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future finally surfaces at Royal B.C. Museum

Museum dives into the world of the killer whale as delayed feature exhibition now open

New figures show Canadian housing prices outpacing those in other developed countries. (Black Press Media file photo)
Canadian housing prices fastest rising in the world

Relative to 2000, housing prices have risen by a factor of more than 2.5

Polystyrene has been outlawed as a take-out option for restaurants in Tofino and Ucluelet. (Black Press Media file photo)
Styrofoam done as a takeout option on Island’s Pacific Rim

Tofino and Ucluelet ban polystyrene take-out containers

The IIO is investigating after a police dog bit a man during a traffic stop near Ladysmith on April 17, 2021. (Black Press Media stock photo)
IIO investigating after police dog bites man near Ladysmith

RCMP dog bit man during traffic stop on Friday, April 17

This photo shows crews battling the fire at 7987 Galbraith Cres. that caused extensive damage and displaced six residents early Sunday morning. (Central Saanich Fire/Department Twitter)
Six fortunate to escape terrifying early-morning fire in Greater Victoria

Damage to the duplex extensive with one resident said to be ‘catatonic’ after escaping building

Most Read