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Wind-driven Southern California wildfires prompt mass evacuations, injure 2 firefighters

Wind-driven flames triggered mass evacuations in California and severely injured two firefighters on Monday, as hundreds of thousands of residents endured a second day of power shutoffs due to heightened fire risks from gusty, dry weather.

Reuters | San Francisco | Updated: 27-10-2020 09:40 IST | Created: 27-10-2020 05:41 IST
Wind-driven Southern California wildfires prompt mass evacuations, injure 2 firefighters
File photo. Image Credit: Twitter (@LACoFDPIO)

Wind-driven flames triggered mass evacuations in California and severely injured two firefighters on Monday, as hundreds of thousands of residents endured a second day of power shutoffs due to heightened fire risks from gusty, dry weather. The latest threats came amid California's worst wildfire season on record in terms of landscape burned, with more than 4.1 million acres (1.6 million hectares) scorched since the start of the year. Thousands of homes have been destroyed and 31 lives lost.

Red flag warnings for incendiary weather conditions remained posted across much of California due to extreme winds likely to produce gusts of up to 70 miles and 80 miles per hour (113 kph to 129 kph), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). Illustrating the hazards posed by Southern California's latest bout of dry, Santa Ana gusts blowing out of the desert, the Silverado fire erupted early Monday and spread across 7,200 acres (2,913 hectares) of Orange County by late afternoon, county fire authority spokesman Thanh Nguyen told Reuters.

Some 90,800 residents were ordered evacuated from homes in and around the city of Irvine as the fire raged largely unchecked through canyons filled with dry brush in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains south of Los Angeles, officials said. No property losses were immediately reported. But two firefighters among an estimated 500 personnel battling flames with bulldozers and hand tools were hospitalized with severe burns, authorities said.

A second Orange County blaze, the Blueridge fire, later broke near Yorba Linda and has charred roughly 1,200 acres (485 hectares), Nguyen said. Local television news footage showed at least one home gutted by flames. Utility company Southern California Edison reported shutting off electricity to 21,000 homes and businesses in the region as a precautionary measure in the face of elevated fire risks posed by dangerously high winds.

Hundreds of miles away, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said it had cut off power to more than 350,000 of its customers for the same reason. Wind-damaged electrical lines have been implicated in causing dozens of devastating California wildfires in recent years, and utilities have increasingly resorted to such "public safety power shutoffs" to reduce the risk.

Winds were clocked at up to 89 mph in Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco Bay and were steadily blowing at more than 50 mph elsewhere through the region. By midday Monday, PG&E said it was beginning to restore electrical service to some customers "where it is safe to do so," with most of the shutoffs expected to be ended by Tuesday night as winds abated, the utility said in a statement.

The latest outbreak of fires capped a summer of record California wildfire activity stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, drought, wind, and dry lightning storms that scientists point to as a consequence of climate change.


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