Weather & Natural Disasters

Southern California endures 2nd straight day of wind-driven wildfires

Key Points
  • Another spate of Southern California wildfires roared to life on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing evacuations.
  • The most destructive among several new fires in the region erupted hours before dawn in the rugged slopes of the San Bernardino National Forest above the city of San Bernardino.
  • In northern California, firefighters have been fighting the nearly 77,000-acre (31,161-hectare) Kincade Fire in Sonoma County's wine country for more than a week.
Firefighters battle the Kincade Fire as a barn burns on October 27, 2019 in Santa Rosa, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Another spate of Southern California wildfires roared to life on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing evacuations, as the region faced a second day of explosively fierce Santa Ana winds that have fanned flames, displacing thousands of residents.

The most destructive among several new fires in the region erupted hours before dawn in the rugged slopes of the San Bernardino National Forest above the city of San Bernardino and roared into a foothill neighborhood at the north end of town.

The so-called Hillside fire quickly devoured more than 200 acres of dry scrub and destroyed or damaged at least six homes before firefighters managed to keep the flames from advancing farther into neighborhoods, fire officials said.

VIDEO5:0905:09
Rising Risks: This bond helps prevent wildfires

Authorities ordered the evacuation of nearly 500 homes, displacing about 1,300 residents. No injuries were reported.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but the San Bernardino County Fire Department said on Twitter that no power lines were located where the blaze originated.

"The winds have probably been the biggest factor promoting this fire spread," fire department spokesman Chris Prater said.

The latest recurrence of Santa Ana winds, howling into the region through mountain passes from the desert, were so extraordinarily dry, powerful and prolonged that the National Weather Service created a new alert level, issuing an "extreme red flag warning" in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The warning remains posted until Thursday evening, but fire officials said high winds were expected to taper off by late afternoon.

Getty and Reagan

Two other major fires have charred the region since the start of the week.

A fire that erupted early on Monday near the famed Getty Center art museum in west Los Angeles, threatening thousands of homes in some of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, was largely suppressed by Thursday, with containment listed at 40%.

Residents were being allowed to return to most of the 10,000 homes that had been ordered evacuated. About a dozen dwellings were lost in the 745-acre Getty fire and two firefighters were injured, but the museum came through unscathed.

About 30 miles to the northwest, a fire that raged to the edge of the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Ventura County's Simi Valley on Wednesday was 10% contained on Thursday after threatening thousands of homes.

Some 26,000 residents were evacuated at the height of that blaze, dubbed the Easy fire, along with an unknown number of horses and other livestock in an area dotted with ranch properties. Firefighters managed to keep flames from damaging the Reagan Library compound.

By Thursday, the Easy fire had scorched more than 1,700 acres, and county schools remained closed.

High winds also left thousands of people in the region without electricity, either from downed power lines or from utilities selectively shutting off power to reduce the risk of wildfires being sparked by damaged wires.

Investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning.

In northern California, firefighters have been fighting the nearly 77,000-acre Kincade Fire in Sonoma County's wine country for more than a week. That blaze has destroyed at least 266 homes and other structures, but was listed as 60% contained on Wednesday.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co acknowledged last week that the Kincade fire started near a damaged transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

As many as 190,000 people were displaced at the height of the Kincade Fire, but some evacuation orders have since been lifted.

VIDEO1:5101:51
Insurance companies scramble to cover exposure after California wildfires
Next Article
Key Points
  • Former California Gov. Gray Davis says the state can turn around its wildfire crisis in the next 18 months if it does the work that's needed.
  • Technology should play a major part to help "keep people from the horror of, not only of blackouts, but of planned blackouts, presumably to stop more wildfires," the Democrat says.
  • Wildfires have been ravaging California for the past week and utilities have been cutting power to prevent downed lines from starting more fires.