Wildfires break out in California despite preventive power supply cuts
Wildfires broke out in California despite PG&E’s plans to cut power to a few hundred thousand customers to prevent just that.
CBS’s Jonathan Vigliotti had the news:
Despite an unprecedented effort to prevent wildfires, at least three of them erupted in Southern California on Thursday afternoon fueled by strong winds and dry conditions.
Fifty miles east of Los Angeles, several homes began burning just as the power company was turning off the electricity in the area in an effort to prevent sparking a fire. Reports say one fire was near downed power lines in the city of Fontana.
In the hills south of San Bernardino, another fire broke out. Winds there were gusting up to 30 mph, hampering firefighters trying to protect buildings. This has led to 14,000 Southern Californians going without power.
In the northern part of the state, hundreds of thousands of customers have been living in the dark since Wednesday when PG&E orchestrated a rolling blackout in a desperate effort to prevent its equipment from igniting fires.
Southern California utilities have been hesitating to shut down electric grids on a massive scale in an effort to stem a customer backlash.
Where to cut power has not been a perfect science. The power was left on in one San Jose neighborhood until high winds knocked down a line sparking a small fire. Neighbors arrived at the scene, first dousing the flames and saving homes.
Brian Melley and Jonathan J. Cooper from the AP reported southbound winds could prompt more power cuts:
Hot, dry winds sweeping into Southern California raised concerns that the region’s largest utility could widen power shut-offs Friday to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires, as a new blaze swept through the San Fernando Valley’s northern foothills.
Southern California Edison turned off electricity to about 20,000 people in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino and Kern counties but warned that thousands more could lose service as Santa Ana winds gained strength.
Winds gusted dangerously as forecast before calming in Northern California, where Pacific Gas & Electric faced hostility and second-guessing over its widespread shut-offs.
The fire danger spread to Southern California on Thursday as raging winds moved down the state.
A wildfire fueled by Santa Ana winds broke out after 9 p.m. in Los Angeles along the 210 Freeway and jumped the highway. Flames also crossed the 5 Freeway. The highways were closed because of heavy smoke. The Saddleridge fire, which started in Sylmar, had consumed more than 4,600 acres by 3 a.m. Friday, fire officials said.
There were no reports of injuries, but authorities ordered mandatory evacuations in the Granada Hills, Porter Ranch and Oakridge Estates neighborhoods. Several homes were seen burning in Granada Hills, and the Los Angeles fire department said an “unknown number” of homes were potentially threatened.
CNN’s Faith Karimi and Sarah Moon quoted California Governor Gavin Newsom as saying:
“This is not … a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades,” Newsom said. “Neglect, a desire to advance not public safety but profits.”
Meanwhile, the same powerful winds are moving into Southern California, where a local utility company has started turning off the lights for thousands of people. Southern California Edison cut power to almost 24,000 customers as winds picked up in the region Thursday.
“The highest we’ve seen so far is 64 miles per hour in Warm Springs in the mountains of LA County,” said Keily Delerme, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “The most concerning thing is the combination of the winds and dry conditions.”
Some school districts have canceled classes Thursday and Friday.
More than half of the customers affected had power back by end of Thursday, PG&E said. About 426,000 of a total 738,000 customers have had their power restored. So far, 312,000 remain without power.
And the financial impact has been devastating. San Jose city said it lost at least half a million dollars and the number is expected to go up. The estimate includes supplies and fuel costs for generators, Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness said.
Mayor Sam Liccardo said they expect some compensation from PG&E for the public cost.