California wine country fires expand, trigger blackouts | News | DW | 24.10.2019
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California wine country fires expand, trigger blackouts

A fire in one of California's wine growing regions could leave half a million homes and businesses without power. Large portions of the state were already under fire alert when the blaze began.

A wildfire in Sonoma County, Northern California, expanded on Thursday, prompting the evacuation of an entire town and precautionary blackouts.

The Kincade fire, as it has been dubbed, began late Wednesday and its cause is still unknown. A malfunctioning power line was discovered in the area around the same time that the fire started, but what role it played, if any, is not yet clear. 

The fire expanded to more than 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) by Thursday night, due to powerful winds that swept the region. Some 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) and 49 buildings have been engulfed since the blaze began. The Kincade fire comes two years after a series of deadly blazes tore through the same area and killed 44 speople.

Large portions of California had already been placed under red-flag alerts this week, amid high temperatures and powerful winds that usually help trigger fires, officials said. Meteorologists are warning that these could be the strongest winds this season or possibly this year. 

US National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard told Reuters that the worst of the winds were to come late in Thursday night and into Friday.

"It looks like at its worst, southern California will see wind gusts of 55 miles per hour (89 kilometers per hour). Down in some of the coastal areas, the winds could reach 75 miles per hour later today," he said.

There is a risk that the blaze could knock down power lines, which in turn could ignite new fires among arid trees and vegetation.

Read more: How California became Donald Trump's most hated state 

Evacuation and blackouts

The entire community of Geyserville, a historic wine country town, was ordered to evacuate.  Some 900 people live in the town, which is a popular stop for wine country tourists.

Pacific Gas & Electric utility company announced on Wednesday that it would suspend service to its customers.

"We understand the hardship caused by these shutoffs," PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said.

"But we also understand the heartbreak and devastation caused by catastrophic wildfires," he added, emphasizing the importance of the uncomfortable precautionary measure.

By Thursday morning, approximately 185,000 customers were without power in California, according to poweroutage.us. By the afternoon, a total of 2,000 people had been forced to evacuate their homes. 

Utility officials said Thursday evening that a massive power shutdown throughout Northern California is likely this weekend. Up to 2 million people could be affected. 

The power outages come just two weeks after PG&E suspended service for several days for residents of northern and central California.

jcg,kp/rc (Reuters, AP)

Watch video 01:49

Power company blamed for California blackouts

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