Power returns to Northern California; firefighters gain on wildfires in SoCal

John Bacon, USA TODAY

The lights were back on for more than 2 million Northern Californians on Sunday after strong winds fueling wildfire concerns prompted the state's biggest power utility to darken hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

In Southern California, a few dozen customers were without power as firefighters slowly gained control over fires that killed two people, destroyed dozens of homes and forced 100,000 to evacuate. The largest fire, Saddleridge, was 42% contained at 7,965 acres Sunday and all evacuation orders had been lifted.

"Aggressive suppression efforts and favorable weather conditions (have) provided opportunities to make gains in obtaining full containment," the Los Angeles County Fire Department said in a statement. "Full extinguishment is expected."

All five evacuation centers closed Sunday, the Los Angeles Fire Department said, and no displaced residents have requested further shelter.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who declared a state of emergency Friday because of the fires, said Cal Fire and local firefighters doused more than 300 blazes across the state last week.

"Thank you to all of California's firefighters working hard to keep Californians safe," Newsom said.

Loretta Reel surveys the damage to her in-laws' home in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles on Oct. 12, 2019.

In Northern California, power was shut down to almost 750,000 customers in 34 counties because of the "widespread, severe wind event" that added to already hot, dry conditions, Pacific Gas and Electric said. PG&E initiated a preemptive shutdown shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Wind gusts in excess of 70 mph were recorded Wednesday evening into Thursday. The vast majority of customers who were affected by the Public Safety Power Shutoff were restored within 48 hours, the utility said.

PG&E confirmed 50 instances of weather-related damage to its system, including some downed lines. The company said most of the damage had been fixed Sunday.

The outage had angered many residents and local leaders. The utility, however, said the safety of residents stood above all other concerns.

PG&E's equipment was blamed for last year's Camp Fire that devastated the town of Paradise and killed 86 people. The ensuing financial crunch forced the utility to file for bankruptcy protection.

Newsom has blamed the preemptive outage on a history of bad choices by PG&E and promised a major reorganization of the beleaguered utility. He described the company's issues as "a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades. Neglect. A desire to advance not public safety, but profits."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California fires: Blazes continue as power is turned back on