US Top News and Analysis

Strong earthquake sets off fires, damages desert city east of Los Angeles

Key Points
  • A powerful magnitude 6.4 quake on Thursday struck Southern California.
  • The initial quake was felt as far as Los Angeles, and quickly followed by dozens of smaller aftershocks.
A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Southern California on July 4th, 2019.
NBC News

A powerful earthquake struck Southern California on Thursday, touching off house fires and damaging buildings in a desert town northeast of Los Angeles, but authorities had no early reports of injuries.

The 6.4 magnitude quake, the largest in two decades in the area, struck about 113 miles (182 km) northeast of Los Angeles near the city of Ridgecrest at around 1:30 pm EDT (1730 GMT), according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The Kern County Fire Department said on Twitter it was working "nearly 2 dozens incidents ranging from medical assistance to structure fires in and around the city of Ridgecrest, CA."

Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden said the city was dealing with fires and broken gas lines, as well as falling objects that hit people, as the city endured many aftershocks.

"We are used to earthquakes but we're not used to this significance," she told MSNBC.

The quake is the largest in Southern California since the 1994 magnitude 6.6 Northridge earthquake, USGS geophysicist Paul Caruso said. That quake, which was centered in a heavily populated area of Los Angeles, caused billions of dollars of damage.

Breeden said she had never felt a quake "like this long rolling" temblor, adding she was driving in her car when it happened and immediately pulled up her emergency brake.

She said the city of Ridgecrest had asked residents to look after others, especially the elderly, which form a large part of the city's population.

Death Valley

The USGS said the quake, initially reported as a magnitude 6.6, was very shallow — only 6.7 miles (10.7 km) — which would have amplified its effect.

The temblor, which struck in an area on the edge of Death Valley National Park, was felt throughout Los Angeles, as far north as Fresno, and as far east as Las Vegas, Nevada. It was even felt south of the border in Mexico, where buildings were evacuated in the towns of Tijuana and Mexicali, according to Baja State officials.

Chuck Schlie, who lives in St. Louis and was visiting Los Angeles for the first time with his family, said he was lying in bed at his hotel room in nearby Anaheim when he felt rumbling.

"I thought wow this is really weird. Am I going crazy?" Schlie said outside the historic TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. "If you've never experienced it, you think am I out of my mind? Why am I feeling like this?"

According to European quake agency EMSC, the quake was felt in an area inhabited by some 20 million people.

"We were just panicked trying to get out of the house because everything was just falling out of the cabinets, off the shelves, off the walls, pictures ... They were flying like missiles off the shelves," resident April Rodriguez in Trona, California, south of Ridgecrest, said on CNN.

James Wilhorn, the manager of Howard's Mini Mart in Ridgecrest, said his gas station was the only one open in the area because of damage to other gas stations and the Indepence Day holiday, and there was a line of 20 cars waiting to fill their tanks.

"I mopped up over 20 gallons (76 liters) of wine that fell over in addition to the beer, soda and the cooler that fell over. We have several thousand dollars worth of damage," Wilhorn said.

More quakes, power outages

The epicenter was very close to Ridgecrest, a town with a population of more than 27,600 in the high desert. The area has suffered earthquake swarms in the past, including a series of some 2,500 tremors over the course of five weeks in the summer of 1995.

We expect to be seeing a lot of earthquakes today ... Probably at least one more will be damaging" Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist, told a televised news conference. She said there were at least two seismic faults involved.

According to, there were some 5,851 customers without power in Kern County.

The Kern County Fire Department said the Ridgecrest Regional hospital was being evacuated in response to the quake. The hospital could not immediately be reached for comment.

Temperatures in the area were expected to climb to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8oC) on Thursday, with extremely low humidity, the Weather Channel said.

President Donald Trump said he had been briefed on the earthquake. "All seems to be very much under control!" Trump tweeted.