California Fire Updates: Sweeping Evacuations and Blackouts Ordered – The New York Times

Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Emergency responders greatly expanded a mandatory evacuation zone on Sunday morning, more than doubling the number of residents who have been told to flee the Kincade fire north of San Francisco.

Firefighters have been struggling to contain the blaze, driven by winds of up to 80 miles an hour and fed by dry conditions. The expanded evacuation zone now covers about 180,000 people, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said.

“This is the largest evacuation that any of us at the Sheriff’s Office can remember,” the office wrote on Twitter. All residents who had previously been under an evacuation warning have now been ordered to flee.

The Kincade fire, which began late Wednesday night, has spread to 30,000 acres, and was 10 percent contained on Sunday morning, according to Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency. The authorities said the fire had destroyed 79 buildings, including 31 homes, and damaged 14 more. No serious injuries have been reported.

About 90 to 95 percent of people in the mandatory evacuation zones are fleeing, said Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. He said deputies would not force people out of their homes or arrest them if they refused to follow the order, but that “they will be on their own in the event of an emergency.”

Public safety officials pleaded with residents to comply, recalling a 2017 fire that wrought devastation in the area.

“I’m seeing people reporting that they’re going to stay and fight this fire,” Mark Essick, Sonoma County’s sheriff, said during a news conference Saturday night. “Fire is not something you can stay and fight.”

The blaze’s advance through the hilly rural areas of the county has made conditions difficult for the nearly 3,000 firefighters who are battling the blaze, the authorities said.

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Marin County began to go dark on Saturday night as PG&E cut power to parts of the Bay Area.

Beginning in the northern part of the county, the shut-offs in Marin were part of a wave of planned power blackouts that could ultimately affect 940,000 homes and businesses across Northern California, which would leave as many as 2.7 million people without power. It would be the largest planned blackout to prevent wildfires in California’s history.

In Marin County, about 99 percent of residents could ultimately be affected, the sheriff’s office said. The authorities implored residents not to call 911 when they lost power, saying that the county’s emergency dispatch system was already flooded with calls.

Public safety officials warned residents that it could take up to five days to restore power in Marin County and that cellular phone service could be affected by the shutdown.

“Though the weather event will end Monday, power restoration could take several days,” the sheriff’s office said.

The National Weather Service issued what is called a red-flag warning on Sunday morning, saying that a combination of powerful winds and low humidity could create what it called a “historic” weather event, with a high risk of fires across all or part of at least 30 Northern California counties.

Gusts of up to 80 miles an hour are expected in some area on Sunday, making firefighting work much more difficult. Besides fanning the flames, the winds can carry burning embers beyond fire lines to new areas that are ripe for ignition because of dry conditions. Near Healdsburg, gusts as powerful as 93 miles an hour have been recorded.

The weather service said the conditions could lead to the strongest blazes since the 2017 Wine Country fires. The deadliest of those blazes was the Tubbs fire, which grew to 35,000 acres as it destroyed more than 5,600 buildings and killed 22 people.

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