California firefighters continue to battle blazes across the state, as weather conditions threaten to make the wildfires in some areas grow in their intensity in the coming days.
Thousands of residents have already fled and hundreds of thousands of others were left in the dark as power companies cut off electricity to try to prevent more fires, which can be sparked by snapped cables in dry brushland across the state.
Crews used helicopters and planes to drop water and flame retardant on the fires throughout Monday, trying to capitalise on a lull in heavy winds that have combined with dry conditions to create tinderbox conditions.
“I know this moment generates a tremendous amount of anxiety,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday, as two major blazes burning at opposite ends of the state.
Newsom declared a state of emergency in California over the weekend, with 43 of the state’s 58 counties under a high fire-danger warning as of Sunday.
The most recent fire broke out on the western side of Los Angeles near the Getty Center museum in the early morning on Monday, burning more than 242 hectares (600 acres) of hills and forcing thousands to evacuate. The blaze was only five percent contained on Tuesday, with smouldering areas remaining at risk of reigniting with higher winds, authorities said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of kilometres away, north of San Francisco, crews were battling the biggest and most destructive blaze, the Kincade fire.
As of early Tuesday, the fire had scorched more than 29,900 hectares (74,000 acres), destroyed 123 homes and other structures and forced 190,000 to evacuate. It was only 15 percent contained as it burned across parts of Sonoma County’s picturesque wine country, state fire officials said.
Newsom said the Kincaid Fire remains the state’s most “most vexing and challenging”.
Weather forecasters say the worse could be yet to come.
“The worst of this (weather) is coming later today and tonight,” Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, told Reuters news agency early on Tuesday.
“The winds in the south will really pick up, 50 to 70mph (80 to 112kph) with some gusts up to 80mph (128kph) in the Los Angeles mountain area.”
The so-called “Santa Ana winds” in the south could hit their worst levels of the season and last into late Thursday, Chenard added.
He said that Northern California will also not be spared.
Until at least Wednesday, winds will hit up to 104kph (65mph) in the mountain areas and 56kph (35mph) in the valleys and coast of the extremely dry area, he said.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the state’s largest electricity provider, said early on Tuesday that almost 600,000 more customers would have their power shut off, starting early in the day, as part of fire prevention measure before the wind storms.
About 970,000 customers’ power has already been shut off by the company already been shut off, although about half of those were restored by Monday night, the company announced.
The governor has been sharply critical of PG&E, saying corporate greed and mismanagement kept it from upgrading its infrastructure while wildfire hazards have steadily worsened over the past decade.
Investigators have not yet said what they believe caused the Kincaid Fire, although it ignited near a broken wire on a PG&E transmission tower.
The company acknowledged on Monday that despite the preventive outages, its power lines may have started two smaller fires over the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has also said its transmission lines may have been responsible for the Kincaid Fire.