Crews battle California fires before windstorms return
The Associated Press
Stefanie Dazio and Brian Melley
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Crews fought Tuesday to drown, slash and smother wildfires that have incinerated dozens of homes in Northern and Southern California before returning windstorms can blow them back into furious life.
In California's wine country, firefighters worked to reinforce fire lines in western Sonoma County while rushing to shore up the eastern side that could be the new focus as winds switched direction.
"We're playing both offense and defense right now on two different sides of the fire," said Jonathan Cox of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Bulldozers carved firebreaks, hand crews attacked hot spots with hoses and shovels, and aircraft painted hillsides with fire retardant.
The fire that began last week near the town of Geyserville had destroyed 57 homes and damaged another dozen, with 90,000 homes and other buildings considered threatened. About 156,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.
The blaze was 15 percent contained.
Evacuation orders were downgraded to warnings for some 30,000 people in the west but new warnings were issued to people in the east, with Calistoga in Napa County and Middletown in Lake County — a community badly damaged by a 2015 wildfire.
Winds were expected to hit 20 to 30 mph (48 kph) Tuesday, with gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) by afternoon. The winds will peak by midnight before easing, forecasters said.
In the south, a brief lull in the wind helped crews attacking a blaze that swept through the star-studded hills of Los Angeles on Monday. The fire roared up a steep hillside near the J. Paul Getty Museum in the Brentwood section. It destroyed at least eight homes and damaged at least six, forcing LeBron James and thousands of others to flee.
The Getty, with its collection of priceless art, was not threatened, fire officials said.
Much of the blaze was reduced to smoldering ruins and hot spots but hot, dry Santa Ana winds that could blow them to life and spread embers were predicted beginning Tuesday night. Red flag warnings of extreme fire danger were issued for much of Southern California into Thursday, with gusts up to 75 mph (120.7 kph) possible in some areas.
With no rain and more wind in the forecast, the coming days could be grim.
The flames didn't discriminate. In wine country, vineyard farmworkers were among those displaced. In Los Angeles, James and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were driven from their homes along with tens of thousands of others.
"Man, these LA (fires) are no joke," the Los Angeles Lakers star tweeted, using an emoji for the word "fires." ''Crazy night."
Joann Killeen packed up her important papers, medicine, power bars and her dog Riley and fled as soon as she got an evacuation call from the fire department on her cellphone at about 2 a.m. Monday. Her hilly neighborhood is vulnerable to fires and Killeen said she has been evacuated five times in 18 years.
"The most important thing is your life," she said, "so you always have your go-bag ready to go and you just go. The rest of it is just stuff and stuff can be replaced. "
Utilities in the north and south repeatedly cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers in recent weeks because of concerns that winds would knock down lines and spark fires. Officials warned of yet another round of safety shut-offs.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said some 1.5 million people will be hit with more shut-offs starting Tuesday. PG&E also has said its transmission lines may have been responsible for the Sonoma County fire.
Southern California Edison had cut off power to about 800 people as of Monday night and warned that it was considering disconnecting about 400,000 more as winds return midweek.