California state-wide emergency declared as wildfire forces 200,000 to flee and leaves millions without power

Matt Drake

California‘s governor has declared a state-wide emergency, ordering nearly 200,000 people to flee from the threat of wildfires fuelled by ferocious winds.

Millions of people were left without power as hurricane-force winds whipped through the state.

Firefighters have had to contend with powerful winds and at least one gust clocked at 102 miles per hour on Sunday above the evacuated town of Healdsburg, according to the National Weather Service.

At least 180,000 people were ordered to evacuate near Kincade Fire, the largest of eight wildfires currently blazing, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Firefighters have had to contend with powerful winds with at least one gust clocked at 102 miles per hour: AFP via Getty Images

About 3,000 people were battling the Kinkade Fire and prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency.

Governor Newsom said in a statement: “We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires.

“All hands are focusing on the Kincade, the most stubborn challenge we face.”

At a news conference on Sunday, officials said they expect the current conditions of high winds and low humidity – that can lead to the rapid spread of fire – to persist for days.

County of Sonoma Supervisor David Rabbitt said: “We know we are not out of the woods, and the wind conditions that were ferocious continue today.”

There are currently no reports of deaths or major injuries.

California Fire officials said on Sunday that the fire had grown to burn over 85 square miles, and officials reported containment had dropped to 5 per cent with at least 94 structures now destroyed.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, two grass fires briefly halted traffic on an Interstate bridge and the flames came dangerously close to homes in Vallejo.

Another grass fire closed a stretch of interstate that cuts through the state capital as smoke obstructed drivers.

In the south, a wildfire in the Santa Clarita area near Los Angeles destroyed 18 structures. As of Sunday night, the Tick Fire was 70 per cent contained.

The biggest evacuation was in Northern California’s Sonoma County where 180,000 people were told to pack up and leave, many in the middle of the night.

To prevent its power lines from sparking in the high winds and setting off more blazes, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said on Sunday that preventative shut-offs impacted 965,000 customers and another 100,000 lost electricity because of strong gusts, bringing the number of residents impacted by blackouts to nearly 2.7 million people.

PG&E officials said they were expecting strong winds to whip up again on Tuesday and that they have notified 500,000 customers – or more than 1 million people – that they are likely to have their power turned off for the third time in a week.

Chief executive officer and president of PG&E Andrew M Vesey said: “We recognise the hardship of not having power.

“We are working hard with all our partners to ensure the most vulnerable customers are being cared for.”

Some of those people might not have their power restored from the current outage before the next major shutdown, which would leave them without electricity for five days or longer, said Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s emergency preparedness and response director.

The fear that the winds could blow embers and spread fire across a major highway prompted authorities to expand evacuation orders that covered parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was devastated by a wildfire two years ago.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office tweeted on Sunday: “This is the largest evacuation that any of us can remember. Take care of each other.”

Hundreds of people arrived at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa by Sunday.

Some came from senior care facilities. More than 300 people slept inside an auditorium filled with cots and wheeled beds. Scores of others stayed in a separate building with their pets.

Additional reporting by agencies

Read more

Millions face blackouts as wildfires continue rage across California