Wildfire Season Rages on in Southern California as Thousands Flee

By and | November 1, 2019

A wildfire that erupted overnight near Los Angeles has forced 7,500 people to flee as the tail end of a powerful windstorm takes its a final swing at Southern California.

The blaze in Ventura County ripped through more than 8,700 acres in about 12 hours, according to local authorities. Edison International has cut power to 950 nearby homes and businesses to prevent live wires from toppling and sparking more infernos.

The Maria fire, in the hills above Camarillo, comes as California recovers from a wildfire season that’s upended much of the state. Utilities have cut electricity to millions of people from Sacramento to San Diego, in some cases for days at a clip, as some of the strongest winds in a decade ripped over power lines and drove flames across hillsides and vineyards.

Ron Gales, a spokesman for Southern California Edison, said by phone that it wasn’t clear yet whether utility equipment played any role in starting the Maria fire. Edison shares rose as much as 1.1% Friday.

The new outbreak underscores that wildfire season — which runs through December — still poses a dire threat. While the fierce winds have ebbed in most of the state, gusts in Los Angeles and Ventura counties are raging up to 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour Friday, according to the National Weather Service. No rain is forecast for a week, and the chance of blazes remains high.

“It is winding down out there, but there continues to be very dry conditions,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. “Unfortunately it remains very dry, so they are not getting a break as far as that goes.”

The state’s largest utility, PG&E Corp., staged four massive blackouts in October to prevent wildfires. By late Thursday, it had restored service to almost all of the 1.1 million customers impacted in its most recent outage.

PG&E’s equipment sparked wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018, saddling it with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities and eventually forcing it into bankruptcy. It’s strategy of preemptive outages this year has drawn anger from customers and state lawmakers who say they’ve gone too far.

“Are shutoffs a perfect solution or a cure-all for wildfire? No,” PG&E Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson said in a media briefing late Thursday. “In fact, it’s hard to think of any one action by any one entity that can solve the wildfire risk California faces.”

As firefighters have contained once-raging blazes in Northern California, PG&E shares have climbed for four-straight sessions. They were up as much as 9.4% Friday.

Traditionally, the wildfire season doesn’t end until storms coming off the Pacific Ocean drench California’s lowlands with rains and its mountains with snow.

The Kincade fire north of San Francisco that burned nearly 78,000 acres was 68% contained Friday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

–With assistance from Mark Chediak, David R. Baker and Michael B. Marois.

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