Close to 200,000 Northern California residents, many of them left in the dark by a third power shutdown in a month, have been ordered to leave their homes as historic winds fueled an explosion of wildfires in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, shut off power to an estimated 2.3 million people across 38 counties starting Saturday evening in an effort to avoid having its equipment spark fires amid dry conditions and powerful winds.
A similar precautionary move did not prevent the Kincade Fire from igniting late Wednesday, and early indications point to malfunctioning PG&E equipment as the cause of it.
On Sunday afternoon, PG&E announced it's monitoring another extreme-wind event that could trigger yet another power outage Tuesday and Wednesday, the third such blackout in a week and fourth in October. Up to 32 counties in Northern and Central California could be affected.
The Kincade Fire has now grown to 54,298 acres and was only 5% contained as of 7:10 p.m. PDT Sunday, forcing authorities to impose mandatory evacuations for 180,000 residents in Sonoma County, best known for its wine production.
Flames also flared on both sides of Interstate 80 near the Carquinez Bridge in Vallejo, 20 miles north of Oakland, forcing the freeway to be temporarily shut down in both directions and the nearby California State University Maritime Academy to be evacuated.
A stretch of two interstate highways was also closed for a while in the state capital of Sacramento because of a grass fire whose smoke impaired visibility for drivers.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as the extreme weather conditions significantly heightened the risk of wildfires .
Concerns that the winds could blow embers and spread the Kincade Fire across a major highway prompted the evacuation orders covering parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was devastated by wine country fires two years ago. (USA Today)