Wildfires Prompt Evacuations, Blackouts, State Of Emergency In California

Oct 29, 2019

Fires have now torched more than 74,000 acres in Northern California. At least 180,000 residents have evacuated. Millions of residents plunged into darkness from mandatory power shutoffs.

We have the latest from the frontlines and look at disaster response at the brink.


Amy Harrington, mayor of Sonoma, California.

J.D. Morris, reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, covering power outages during the Kincade fire. (@thejdmorris)

Stephen Pyne, wildfire historian. Emeritus professor at Arizona State University, specializing in environmental history, the history of exploration, and especially the history of fire. Author of over 30 books, mostly on the history and management of wildland and rural fire, including “Fire: A Brief History” and “Fire in America.”

From The Reading List

San Francisco Chronicle: “PG&E shares plunge as Kincade Fire destruction grows” — “PG&E Corp. stock fell as much as 27% on Monday as the unrelenting Kincade Fire continued to cast doubt over the company’s future and executives warned of more prolonged blackouts.

“Shares of the bankrupt company were trading at $4.19, down 16% Monday morning on Wall Street. They had been trading even lower, at $3.62, earlier Monday.

“PG&E’s stock slide comes as the Kincade Fire rages in northern Sonoma County, destroying nearly 100 buildings, threatening numerous others and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. The company reported last week that one of its high-voltage transmission lines malfunctioned at about the time and place the fire started.”

Los Angeles Times: “California Wildfires Map” — “The most recent fire is the Getty fire, which started today.

“The largest active fire is the Kincade fire, which has burned 54,298 acres so far. It started on Oct. 23 and is 5% contained.”

New York Times: “With Whipping Winds and Power Down, Californians Flee Fires” — “Erika Rivas could not sleep. The smell of smoke and the fear of encroaching flames kept pulling her back to that day two years ago when she realized her home in Santa Rosa was on fire. That night, she and her family fled their new house with no shoes or jackets.

“This weekend, amid overlapping crises of fire and blackouts, they have had to evacuate not once but twice.

“On Saturday, they moved from a rental home in Windsor into the house in Santa Rosa they are still rebuilding. Twelve hours later, at around 4 a.m., they again fled. ‘It’s been like hell,’ Ms. Rivas, 37, said. ‘We had no water, no power, no anything.’

“Worry gave way to panic across a huge swath of Northern California, as officials ordered more people to leave because of the Kincade fire, bringing the number of residents under mandatory evacuation to 180,000. The evacuations came as the state’s largest utility cut power to as many as 2.7 million people, the largest intentional blackout in California history.”

Vox: “California’s deliberate blackouts were outrageous and harmful. They’re going to happen again.” — “What California went through earlier this month was absolutely bonkers.

“To avoid sparking wildfires during dry, windy weather conditions, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the state’s largest utility, shut off electrical service to some 738,000 customer accounts, representing up to 2 million people. It was a planned, deliberate blackout unprecedented in the history of the nation’s electrical system.

“There’s probably no pleasant way to do something like that, but still, PG&E did it very poorly. Residents had little warning, in some cases less than 24 hours. Nursing homes, emergency rooms, police stations, and fire stations scrambled for backup generators. People with powered medical equipment or refrigerated drugs scrambled to find care at understaffed community centers, and 1,370 public schools lost power; 400 of them sent 135,000 students home to parents scrambling to cover jobs they had no way to get to.”

CNN: “California governor declares statewide emergency as Kincade Fire grows to 50,000 acres” — “California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency on Sunday as wind-whipped wildfires in the north and south of the state gobbled up land, destroyed homes and forced almost 200,000 people to flee.

“In Northern California’s wine country outside San Francisco, the Kincade Fire has grown to about 50,000 acres and is 10% contained, Newsom said Sunday. That’s up from 30,000 acres reported earlier in the day. The governor estimated 180,000 people evacuated because of the fire, which CalFire says destroyed 79 structures.

“The Tick Fire, burning near Santa Clarita in the southern part of the state, destroyed at least 22 structures and threatened 10,000 more, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said Sunday.

“Meanwhile, Californians outside the fire zones find themselves in the dark — literally.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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