California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a statewide emergency on Sunday as a spate of wildfires grew across the state, forcing mass evacuations and plunging millions of people into darkness amid the latest round of preventative blackouts.
“It is critical that people in evacuation zones heed the warnings from officials and first responders, and have the local and state resources they need as we fight these fires,” Newsom said in a press release. “We are deploying every resource available, and are coordinating with numerous agencies as we continue to respond to these fires.”
Newsom said he was in contact with first responders, health officials and residents living in Napa, Geyserville and Los Angeles. The Kincade Fire, roaring through much of Geyserville, and the Tick Fire, ravaging parts of Santa Clarita, have been responsible for large-scale evacuations and power outages since Thursday.
By Sunday night, the Kincade blaze, the largest of the fires, had burned more than 54,000 acres, destroyed 94 structures and forced the evacuations of more than 180,000 people. Cal Fire officials said it was just 5% contained, and around 3,000 firefighters were on the scene battling the flames.
Early Monday, a growing brush fire was spreading near the Getty Center in Los Angeles, threatening thousands of homes in some of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods and causing widespread evacuations.
According to The Los Angeles Times, officials were deeply concerned that strong winds that had plagued the region for the past week could help the Kincade fire cross Highway 101. If it does, the blaze could ignite an area that contains old-growth redwood forests and more agricultural land used to grow grapes.
Wind gusts topped 95 mph on Sunday and forecasters said those conditions could extend into Monday.
Millions of Californians were impacted by the dry, windy conditions even if they were not in the immediate line of the fires. Pacific Gas & Electric, the region’s utility, has been turning off the power to hundreds of thousands of homes in an effort to prevent its equipment from causing any new fires. By Sunday night, around 960,000 homes and businesses in Northern California were without power, per The New York Times.
“What we do is not popular,” Andy Vesey, the head of PG&E, said during a news conference on Sunday. “I will not tell you that people congratulated us. People are angry.”
PG&E’s poorly maintained power lines and transformers have been the source of deadly blazes for years, sparking many lawsuits and demands that the company better maintain its equipment. The company said it plans to bring in more than 1,000 electrical workers from out-of-state to help inspect its equipment. However, PG&E also warned it could take up to 48 hours to restore power to some residents.
Despite these efforts, the company announced that more blackouts could be on the horizon later this week.
Cal Fire specialist Steve Volmer added that high winds could send embers from the Kincade Fire flying, potentially causing several miniature fires to start in neighboring areas. At least three sizable vegetation fires began on Sunday, The New York Times reported, including one that quickly grew to 600 acres.
“This fire, we know what it’s doing; we know where it’s going to go.” Volmer said. “Those new starts we’re going to get are going to be problematic; they’re gonna have the same effects as this fire, and the same rates of spread.”
The National Weather Service said the red flag warning concerning dangerously high winds and low humidity will extend until 11 a.m. on Monday.
This article has been updated to include a brush fire reported early Monday.
Nick Visser contributed reporting.