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Wind gusts reach hurricane force as wildfires torch Southern California

The race to stop an inferno torching the Los Angeles area has gotten more dangerous as furious winds -- some as strong as in a hurricane --...

Posted: Oct 30, 2019 3:21 AM
Updated: Oct 30, 2019 2:30 PM

The race to stop an inferno torching the Los Angeles area has gotten more dangerous as furious winds -- some as strong as in a hurricane -- stoke the flames.

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.

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

A new brush fire erupted Wednesday morning in Simi Valley, 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles and home to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Wind gusts of hurricane force -- at least 74 mph -- were reported at a weather station about 7 miles north of Simi Valley.

The newly formed Easy Fire quickly consumed 1,300 acres in Ventura County, officials said. It threatened 6,500 homes and forced school closures and evacuations, including one at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where a few staff stayed behind to protect what they can. The former President and his wife, Nancy, are buried at the site.

'We feel safe,' library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said.

The blaze burned on all sides of the library complex but the buildings were not in imminent danger, according to Chad Cook, an assistant chief with the Ventura County Fire Department. But the area was still hot and not immediately in the clear, he said.

Heavy winds 'are a major concern to us,' Ventura County Fire Capt. Brian McGrath told CNN affiliate KABC.

About 26,000 people were forced from their homes by the Simi Valley fire, Sheriff Bill Ayub told reporters. Power had been shut off in some areas, he said.

The flames bore down on Highway 23 on the west side of Simi Valley, and could jump the highway.

'We are not out of the woods yet,' said Chad Cook, an assistant chief of the Ventura County Fire Department.

Phil Misiowiec, who lives in Wood Ranch, near the library, described a massive air assault on the blaze by Ventura County and Los Angeles firefighters.

'Winds are tremendously strong and erratic,' he told CNN. 'We are just outside the evacuation zone but are packed and ready to go if things change.'

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state had secured a Fire Management Assistance Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help fight the Easy Fire. The grant allows affected local and state and agencies to apply for a 75% reimbursement of eligible fire suppression costs.

Strong Santa Ana winds could linger into Thursday

Hours after the Easy Fire began, yet another blaze erupted in the city of Jurupa Valley, east of Los Angeles, according to Cal Fire. Known as the Hill Fire, it burned across 50 acres and led to the mandatory evacuations and the shutdown of Highway 60.

Hurricane-force wind gusts of 74 mph were also reported Wednesday at a weather station in the mountains outside of Malibu, according to the National Weather Service. Dozens of stations across southern parts of the state reported gusts of more than 50 mph, with relative humidity lower than 10% -- factors helping to fuel the blazes.

The Getty Fire scorched 745 acres and was 27% contained, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters. 'Please keep in mind that the Getty Fire is still an active fire and we are not out of danger,' said Fire Capt. Jaime Moore said.

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 post describing 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 nearly 77,000 acres across Sonoma County and more than 180 structures, including 86 single-family homes, officials said.

It was only 30% contained on Wednesday. At the Sonoma County Airport, several airlines have canceled all flights through Thursday.

The Kincade Fire started October 23, but the cause 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, 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 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.

The utility on Wednesday issued an 'all clear' for nearly all areas affected by the shutoff except for Kern County. The order allows utility workers to inspect power lines and equipment before restoring power.

PG&E said about 365,000 customers remained without power.

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.'

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 206851

Reported Deaths: 2756
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah40371614
Washington26781248
Marion23425323
Clackamas18932235
Lane13908164
Jackson11535146
Deschutes1001882
Umatilla859387
Linn561181
Yamhill478279
Klamath477678
Polk399356
Douglas388483
Malheur361463
Josephine360672
Benton326522
Jefferson237039
Coos216637
Columbia192129
Union149924
Wasco144430
Lincoln143021
Crook129223
Hood River121633
Morrow115416
Clatsop10589
Baker101115
Curry71011
Tillamook6604
Grant5507
Lake4678
Harney4339
Wallowa1945
Gilliam801
Sherman671
Wheeler351
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3809710

Reported Deaths: 63356
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles124774424456
Riverside3016684627
San Bernardino2992894845
San Diego2818103771
Orange2730575113
Santa Clara1201632188
Kern1107991404
Sacramento1078211736
Fresno1029471724
Alameda896591277
Ventura816611031
San Joaquin747271440
Contra Costa70730813
Stanislaus634971070
Tulare49776849
Monterey43836432
San Mateo42681581
San Francisco37269556
Santa Barbara34613455
Solano33762266
Merced32313478
Sonoma30884317
Imperial28855741
Placer23589299
Kings23195247
San Luis Obispo21421261
Madera16638245
Santa Cruz16246208
Marin14206230
Yolo14160212
Butte12668194
Shasta12630233
El Dorado10396116
Napa1002680
Sutter9663113
Yuba648951
San Benito610963
Lassen578424
Tehama573463
Nevada491975
Humboldt449948
Mendocino434050
Tuolumne421271
Amador374047
Lake356345
Glenn243427
Siskiyou239637
Colusa228418
Calaveras220756
Del Norte14588
Inyo143438
Mono12954
Plumas7366
Modoc5585
Mariposa4657
Trinity4225
Sierra1160
Alpine890
Unassigned280
Medford
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Brookings
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