(Reuters) ― A pair of wildfires have destroyed dozens of homes near Los Angeles and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents, fire officials said on Friday, days after authorities ordered power cuts across the state to prevent more blazes.
Authorities ordered mandatory evacuations for hundreds of people as crews worked through the night to contain the so-called Sandalwood Fire, which had scorched about 500 acres near Calimesa, about 70 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
It was only 10 percent contained as of early Friday, Riverside County Fire Department (RCFD) officials said.
The blaze, named after a local landmark, erupted on Thursday afternoon when a garbage truck dumped burning trash that spread onto vegetation, the RCFD and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said in a statement.
By early Friday, a second Southern California wildfire, dubbed the Saddleridge fire, spread to more than 4,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, prompting an evacuation order for more than 1,900 homes.
“Once daylight comes, a more accurate assessment can be performed,” the LA Fire Department said in a pre-dawn Twitter message. “A number of homes have been destroyed by fire but the estimated number is not available at this time.”
The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive ever recorded in California, with about 100 residents and firefighters killed. More than 8,500 fires erupted, scorching more than 1.8 million acres and causing billions of dollars of damage.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries from the latest blazes, among about 275 wildfires that have broken out across California as hot, gusty winds signaled the start of its peak fire season, state officials said.
Authorities called in bulldozers, helicopters and other heavy equipment to battle the Saddleridge blaze, which was threatening homes in Sylmar, the northernmost neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Firefighters have been able to quickly contain most of the other blazes that erupted across California in recent days.
The risk to life and property prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co cut power to about 730,000 customers, a move that California Governor Gavin Newsom blamed on years of mismanagement by the utility.
By late Thursday, PG&E announced it had restored power to more than half of those affected, and about 312,000 remained without electricity.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from major wildfires linked to its transmission wires and other equipment.
The Saddleridge Fire had set several homes ablaze as of early Friday.
The California Highway Patrol shutdown portions of U.S. 210, and local media reported that a number of motorists were stuck on the interstate highway because of the fire.
Much of northern California, from San Francisco to the Oregon border, remains under a state “red flag” fire alert.
The National Weather Service said the hot gusty winds that usually hit northern California in October, sometimes called the “Diablo Winds,” would persist into Friday morning.
Reporting by Rich McKay and Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Pravin Char