Power cuts and evacuations ordered across California as wildfire threats flare anew

by Reuters
Monday, 26 October 2020 21:05 GMT

Firefighters face strong winds as they head up a hillside to battle a wind driven wildfire near Irvine, California, U.S., October 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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Some 60,000 people were ordered evacuated, while hundreds of thousands faced power cuts

By Mimi Dwyer

LOS ANGELES, Oct 26 (Reuters) - A fast-burning wildfire triggered evacuation orders for 60,000 Southern California residents on Monday as hundreds of thousands elsewhere across the state endured a second straight day of power shutoffs due to heightened fire risks from high winds.

The latest threats came amid California's worst wildfire season on record in terms of landscape burned, with more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) scorched since the start of the year, along with thousands of homes 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 129 kph), according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Illustrating the fire threat posed by Southern California's latest bout of dry, forceful Santa Ana gusts blowing out of the a desert, a wind-driven blaze dubbed the Silverado fire erupted early Monday and quickly spread across 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of Orange County by midday.

Some 60,000 people were ordered evacuated from surrounding homes in the vicinity of Irvine, as the Silverado raged largely unchecked through canyons in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.

No casualties or property losses were immediately reported.

Hundreds of miles away, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said it had cut off power to more than 350,000 homes and businesses in central and northern California as a precautionary measure in the face of elevated fire risks posed by dangerously high winds across 34 counties.

Wind-damaged electrical lines coming into contact with tinder-dry vegetation have been implicated in causing a number 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.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)