The Slatest

More Than 200,000 People Forced to Evacuate by Worsening California Wildfires

A building engulfed in flames at a vineyard.
A building engulfed in flames at a vineyard near Geyserville, California, last week. Josh Edelson/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency as fires in both the north and the south of the state are forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, while another 1.3 million Californians remain without power out of fear of sparking new fires in the wind-scoured landscape.

The largest of the fires, the Kincade Fire in wine country, started Wednesday and had spread to 66,000 acres by Monday. Cal Fire reported that only 5 percent of the fire has been contained. More than 180,000 people were placed under evacuation orders overnight, and more than 70,000 students were affected by school closures, according to the Washington Post. More than 100 structures have burned, and one of Sonoma County’s wineries was destroyed, while several others were damaged.

Firefighters are now worried the blaze will cross over a highway and “ignite an area that hasn’t burned since the 1940s,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The area in concern includes farmland and an old-growth redwood forest.

The Kincade Fire is now moving south toward neighborhoods in the north of Santa Rosa—neighborhoods hit hard in 2017 by the deadly Tubbs Fire. That fire, in Sonoma, Napa, and Lake counties, killed at least 22 people.

Firefighters in Northern California were projected to have a brief respite from the intense and dry Diablo winds on Monday, but officials have warned that another Diablo wind event will likely occur Tuesday night. Some of the weekend’s winds topped out in the 80- to 90-mile-per-hour range, with one gust of 96 mph, according to the Times. According to the Post, National Weather Service forecasters have said they have “no memory” of three Diablo wind events ever before occurring in a single week.

Another notorious wind event—Santa Ana winds—fueled a number of smaller fires in Southern California. In Los Angeles County, firefighters had greater success containing the Tick Fire, which began Thursday near the west side of the city and remains larger than 4,600 acres, according to Cal Fire. A 500-acre fire now known as the Getty Fire erupted Monday, forcing residents of the area, including celebrities such as LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to evacuate. The fire is also threatening the Getty Center art museum and caused the University of California, Los Angeles to cancel classes.

Meanwhile, in yet another precautionary measure, utility company PG&E shut off power to more than 2 million people over the weekend, and more than a million remain without power. It was the latest in a string of recent power outages by the company, which was found to have sparked many of the destructive fires in 2017 and last year’s Camp Fire, which left 86 people dead. The utility has been criticized for falling on the outages as an emergency measure rather than maintaining its own equipment. PG&E has said it will monitor the third Diablo wind event in Northern California, meaning even more preventive blackouts are possible.