Firefighters battle fierce wildfires across California as millions warned of power cut

Tens of thousands of residents near Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, fled their homes

A firefighter tries to put out a blaze in Santa Clarita, California. AP
A firefighter tries to put out a blaze in Santa Clarita, California. AP

Wildfires raged across California on Saturday, destroying homes and forcing people to flee. More than 1,000 firefighters were fighting the flames in the southern part of the US state alone.

Officials ordered about 50,000 people to leave parts of the San Francisco Bay area as hot, dry winds are forecast to fan the fires.

Tens of thousands of residents near Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, fled their homes as the so-called Tick Fire scorched over 1,618 hectares and was only ten per cent contained by Friday evening.

The blaze forced the shutdown of all schools in the area as well as a major motorway, creating a traffic nightmare for commuters.

New orders to leave were given early on Friday as the fire that began the day before continued to spread, driven by so-called Santa Ana winds gusting up to 65 miles per hour.

More than 1,300 firefighters backed by air tankers and helicopters battled the flames that raced towards densely packed communities and threatened 10,000 structures, officials said.

Six homes were destroyed, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby told a news conference, adding that the number was expected to rise.

At least four other fires erupted in southern California this week, fuelled by high temperatures and bone-dry conditions.

A red-flag warning indicating ripe conditions for wildfire was in effect for more than 18 million people in the southern part of the state until Friday evening.

The National Weather Service warned that although wind speeds were set to decrease later Friday, they were expected to pick up again on Sunday and Monday in the southern part of the state.

Wildfires are also raging in the northern part of the state. The most serious – the Kincade Fire – broke out late Wednesday in the Sonoma wine region, also prompting evacuations.

The high risk of fires has led to pre-emptive power cuts to thousands of customers and prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency in Sonoma and Los Angeles counties.

Newsom travelled to Sonoma on Friday to areas affected by the Kincade Fire which has grown to around 23,700 acres and was only five per cent contained as of Friday evening.

The blaze, which is burning in remote, steep terrain, has destroyed nearly 50 structures and forced the evacuation of the entire community of Geyserville and nearby vineyards.

Mr Newsom told reporters the area looked like a "war zone," with homes and vehicles destroyed.

Residents said they barely had time to gather their belongings as the ferocious fire approached their homes.

"We looked up the hill and couldn't believe what we saw," ranch owner Dwight Monson, 68, told the Los Angeles Times, saying the fire moved 14 miles in five hours before destroying four homes and a barn on his property.

The state's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., warned that millions of people in northern and central parts of California could have their power cut off during the weekend given the high risk of fire.

The company has come under intense scrutiny after it reported on Thursday that even though power to nearly 28,000 customers in Sonoma County had been shut down on Wednesday, some of the high-voltage transmission lines were still operating when the fire broke out.

Updated: October 27, 2019 09:53 AM

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