Wildfires north of San Francisco and near Los Angeles have killed at least nine people, caused record destruction and forced the evacuation of more than 250,000 people, including in Malibu, the coastal enclave of the rich and famous.
The fires have grown to more than 170,000 acres overall and threaten to destroy tens of thousands of structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. More than 50,000 homes and businesses have lost power. At least nine people were killed in the northern fire and two deaths in Malibu in the south are under investigation, according to local officials.
The so-called Camp Fire in Northern California has now destroyed more structures than any other wildfire in state history, according to data compiled by Cal Fire.
And it may get worse. Extreme wind conditions are forecast Sunday for a 2,510-square-mile area including Oxnard, Burbank and Simi Valley, where about 2.5 million people live, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. The situation is forecast to be critical in a wider area, including Los Angeles and Anaheim, that has a population of more than 20 million.
President Trump, in Paris to celebrate the end of the First World War, attributed the spread of the flames to what he called gross mismanagement of the forests.
Authorities are investigating electrical equipment as one of several possible causes of that blaze, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said. A PG&E transmission line in the area went offline 15 minutes before the blaze was first reported, the company said in a regulatory filing. The company also reported finding a damaged transmission tower near where investigators say the fire began. And firefighter radio transmissions reviewed by the San Jose Mercury News included calls about downed power lines.
State investigators linked equipment owned by PG&E to 17 fires that burned in the state last year. Shares of PG&E, which provides electricity in Northern California, fell more than 16 percent, the most since 2002. Edison International, which serves much of the southern part of the state, dropped 12 percent.
Southern California Edison said late Friday that it had a power outage near the vicinity of the suspected starting point for the so-called Woolsey fire, according to a regulatory filing. The utility said that a sensor detected a disturbance in its equipment two minutes before the fire was first reported, according to the filing. Southern California Edison said there had been no determination of origin or cause of either wildfire and the utility will cooperate with the investigation, according to a statement issued late Friday.
In Southern California, the Woolsey blaze doubled overnight, having consumed 70,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, according to Cal Fire. The Hill fire has torched about 4,500 acres in Ventura County.
Two fatalities that occurred in the fire areas are under investigation, Los Angeles County Sheriff John Benedict said during a press conference Saturday morning. At least 50 homes were lost in Ventura County, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Last night was a tough night. Mother Nature has given us a little reprieve today. It’s given us some opportunities,” Mark Lorenzen, Ventura County fire chief, said Saturday.
Malibu — which has been home to Hollywood stars including Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman — was evacuated after flames swept south across the Santa Monica Mountains toward the sea.
The Ventura blazes erupted days after a gunman opened fire in a crowded country music bar in the county, killing 12. “Many of our first responders haven’t slept,” Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks said during a news conference in Thousand Oaks, where the shooting took place. “We are still reeling, but we are also very resilient.”
Meanwhile, decreasing winds in Northern California are lowering the risk that a fire burning near Chico, which has already torched about 90,000 acres, will continue to spread. Still, the blaze forced 52,000 residents to evacuate from several nearby towns.
Smoke from that fire stretched into San Francisco, prompting warnings from officials about outdoor activities and closing schools in parts of the Bay Area region. The air quality index in the area was forecast to be an unhealthy 124 Friday, worse than notoriously smoggy Beijing.
PG&E is still struggling to cope with losses from last year’s deadly fires that could cost it as much as $17.3 billion in liabilities, according to a JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate. Investors are waiting on the state’s investigation into the Tubbs fire, the deadliest of the 2017 wine country fires.
With assistance from Brian K. Sullivan and Christopher Palmeri
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