Wildfires and blackouts in California: The situation so far – The Globe and Mail

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A meteor streaks across the sky in Knights Valley, east of Healdsburg, Calif., on Oct. 30 as gusty winds create an ember cast on a valley oak tree burned by the Kincade Fire.

Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP

The latest

  • More than one million Californians were in the dark on Wednesday in the third wave of blackouts by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., a utility facing rising public anger over its desperate efforts to prevent its equipment from triggering more fires. Some residents have been without electricity for four days due to a previous shutoff over the weekend.
  • In the northern wine country, firefighters on Tuesday coped with gusts of 48 kilometres an hour while tackling the Kincade Fire, which has burned 189 homes and other structures and charred an area more than twice the size of San Francisco. Meanwhile, ferocious Santa Ana winds returned to Southern California, where a fire that erupted Monday in the tony Brentwood area of Los Angeles has destroyed a dozen homes.
  • Northern Californians have been getting used to an annual exodus in recent years as destructive wildfires become the new normal in the state. California officials told The Globe and Mail’s Tamsin McMahon that previous fire seasons have improved firefighters’ tactics and they were better prepared for this year, but when it comes to the Kincade fire, they’re not out of the woods yet.

Where the fires are

Firefighters have made progress in containing many of the more than 300 wildfires that erupted in just 24 hours over the weekend. But some fires are too large to easily control, and others have brought devastation to Los Angeles and its environs. You can check the California forestry department’s latest map of the fires here.

The largest blaze so far is the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County north of San Francisco, which, as of Wednesday, had burned 189 homes and structures and was 15 per cent contained. Utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire broke out near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line carried by that tower malfunctioned.

The latest fire broke out Tuesday near the Getty Center museum on the west side of Los Angeles. The Getty Fire forced evacuations in Brentwood, Pacific Palisades and other neighbourhoods. That fire was sparked when strong winds drove a tree branch into a power line and caused it to arc, the state Department of Water and Power says.

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CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

As of Oct. 29

Mandatory evacuation zones

Power outages, planned and not planned

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

COUNTY OF SONOMA; PACIFIC GAS AND

ELECTRIC COMPANY

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

As of Oct. 29

Mandatory evacuation zones

Power outages, planned and not planned

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

COUNTY OF SONOMA; PACIFIC GAS AND ELECTRIC COMPANY

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

As of Oct. 29

Power outages, planned and not planned

Mandatory evacuation zones

MURAT YUKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: COUNTY OF SONOMA;

PACIFIC GAS AND ELECTRIC COMPANY

A handout satellite image courtesy of 2019 Planet Labs Inc., shows smoke rising above the hills during the Kincade Fire near Jimtown, in Sonoma County, on Oct. 27.

Planet Labs Inc/AFP via Getty Images

Where the power’s out, and why

Millions of Californians get their power from PG&E, whose equipment malfunctions have been blamed for several of the fires that have destroyed homes and killed scores of people in recent years. The company is facing billions of dollars in claims that drove it into bankruptcy this past January.

This year, it’s tried to contain the risk of more fires by shutting off large areas of the state’s power grid when fire-provoking winds are expected. PG&E’s latest blackout, its third so far, started Tuesday and affected 605,000 customers – about 1.5 million people – in 30 counties. Some of those people had never had electricity restored after the previous round of blackouts, which shut power to more than 2.5 million people starting on Saturday.

PG&E’s drastic measures have been sharply criticized by Governor Gavin Newsom, who has argued that corporate greed and mismanagement kept PG&E from upgrading its infrastruct