Hurricane-force winds kick up new California wildfires, force closure of Yosemite National Park, knock out power to thousands

Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
·3 min read

Howling winds of hurricane force roared across portions of California late Monday and early Tuesday, sparking a string of new wildfires and leaving more than 240,000 customers without power.

On Monday, wind gusts of more than 90 mph were reported from Sacramento to the Bay Area, with one gust reaching 100 mph near Kirkwood, east of Sacramento, CNN reported.

To put the winds in perspective, a Category 1 hurricane has winds of 74 to 95 mph.

The gusty winds kicked up fresh fires in Santa Cruz County, causing evacuations for 120 homes, and the state’s firefighting agency said it had responded to at least a dozen vegetation fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in 12 hours.

The fires were small, with the largest no more than a couple dozen acres, and by nightfall were “creeping” rather than racing, according to the Cal Fire website. Two were within the area burned by last year’s CZU Lightning Complex inferno.

The Santa Cruz Mountains have a thick layer of “duff,” dead vegetation under heavy timber in which deep smoldering embers can be revived by the wind, said Cecile Juliette, a Cal Fire spokeswoman.

Yosemite National Park was forced to close "due damage from high winds," according to the park's website, and two COVID-19 vaccination centers were also shut down due to threat of fires.

Strong winds are forecast to roar across California on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Strong winds are forecast to roar across California on Tuesday and Wednesday.

More high winds are expected throughout into Wednesday, forecasters said. High wind warnings and advisories continue across much of California, where wind gusts may reach 70 to 80 mph at higher elevations and 50 to 70 mph in valleys and along the coast, the National Weather Service said.

"These high winds have the potential to produce widespread downed trees and tree limbs, significant property damage and numerous power outages," according to the weather service.

In addition, the combination of the high winds and low relative humidity will continue to support a significant wildfire threat, especially along coastal sections from San Francisco to San Diego.

The Los Angeles region will see Santa Ana winds, AccuWeather said, including the downtown area.

"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Mike Doll.

The winds also cut electricity to homes and businesses throughout the Los Angeles and Ventura County regions. Some lost power when lines went down from the wind while others had theirs turned off as a precaution by Southern California Edison.

"When there is a high risk for a wildfire, we may temporarily shut off power to your neighborhood to prevent our electric system from becoming the source of ignition," the utility company said in a statement.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company also reported that more than 17,000 customers in the Bay Area were experiencing wind related power outages, as of Tuesday night.

Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California wind, power outage: Hurricane-force gusts bring fire threat