Wind gusts reach hurricane force as wildfires torch Southern California

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The race to stop an inferno torching parts of the Los Angeles area will get more dangerous, as the flames are stoked by hurricane force winds.

Gusts of up to 70 mph will fuel the Getty Fire through Thursday, threatening more than 7,000 homes, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. (For comparison, a hurricane has sustained winds of at least 74 mph.)

And that’s just one of at least 10 wildfires burning across California.

The latest brush fire erupted in Simi Valley, 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles and home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Wind gusts of hurricane force were reported at a weather station about 7 miles north of the Simi Fire, also known as the Easy Fire.

As of Tuesday night, the Getty Fire was only 15% contained. Fierce Santa Ana winds could last through Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

The blaze was likely caused by a tree branch that broke off from high winds and landed on nearby power lines, sparking and igniting nearby brush, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

An extreme red flag warning went into effect Tuesday night and will last through Thursday evening. It’s the first time the weather service has issued such a warning to convey potentially historic fire conditions.

At least 26 million people are under some kind of red flag warning.

‘We’re ready to go and say goodbye to our home’

Brigitte Kouba Neves, a Los Angeles native, says her heart stopped when her neighbor knocked on her door early Monday and told her they were in the evacuation zone.

“I can’t explain the feeling of packing a bag with the items I want to save from a fire,” she said in an Instagram postdescribing how she and her husband chose daily essentials and their wedding album.

Neves lives in a voluntary evacuation zone. So far, she’s been safe, but that could change at any moment.

“Currently, we have our suitcases by the door, the car is packed, and we’re ready to go and say goodbye to our home if they say we must,” she wrote. But she told CNN what’s it’s like to live under constant threat and worry.

“I have 3-year-old twins with sensitive lungs so school has been canceled a lot, they’ve had to wear masks, and we’ve discussed the fact that there are fires far away … and it changes air quality,” she said. “We’ve let them role play with their firefighter outfits and trucks.”

California’s biggest fire is far from contained

North of the San Francisco Bay, the week-old Kincade Fire — the state’s largest active wildfire — has destroyed more than 76,000 acres across Sonoma County and more than 180 structures, including 86 single-family homes, officials said.

As of Tuesday night, it was only 15% contained. At the Sonoma County Airport, several airlines have canceled all flightsthrough Thursday.

The Kincade Fire started October 23, but cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

The good news: Forecasters say winds will weaken through Thursday, and more residents can go home.

About 2,400 people from the 186,000 under evacuation orders had returned to their homes Tuesday night, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said.

“Many of these people are still returning to homes that are without power because of the PG&E power shutoff,” he said. “So we want people to be vigilant, be aware communication may not be great.”

PG&E slashes power to more Californians

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) cut off power to about 1 million customers in Northern California earlier this week in an attempt to prevent wildfires. But as hundreds of thousands started getting their power back, the PG&E started another shutoff.

About 73% of the customers impacted by the shutoff earlier this week had power restored by early Wednesday, PG&E said. But the company also said it would begin cutting off power to 540,000 customers ahead of stronger winds.

Each “customer” can mean a home or a business, so the number of people affected is much higher than the number of customers.

After a request by Gov. Gavin Newsom, PG&E announced Tuesday it would be issuing credit to customers impacted by the October 9 power shutoff, which turned off the lights for about 738,000 customers.

In Southern California, more than 304,100 faced a possible power shutoff, Southern California Edison said.

And even those not in high-risk areas could still lose power.

“Customers who live in high fire risk areas as defined by the California Public Utilities Commission are more likely to experience” a shutoff, SCE said.

“Customers who don’t live in these high fire risk areas may also be impacted because of how the grid is interconnected.”

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