Oct. 30 (UPI) — The National Weather Service issued an “extreme red flag warning” Tuesday evening for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties as firefighters continue to battle several fires throughout the state that threaten tens of thousands of homes.
The warning will be in effect through Thursday evening as a strong Santa Ana wind of 50 to 70 mph is expected to whip through the region, and “could be one of the strongest of recent memory,” the NWS said in a 4 p.m. advisory.
The Getty Fire, which broke out early Monday, has grown to 656 acres with only 15 percent contained as it destroyed 12 homes and damaged five others, though there have been no fatalities or injuries reported, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
However, officials are worried that strong winds, the dry region and low humidity could cause more fires to spark.
“This is a terribly dangerous moment,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a Tuesday press conference. “So, we will continue to protect and defend this city with everything we have.”
The Brush Fire Index, which estimates the risk of fires igniting based on weather and conditions, was at 301 for Thursday, which is higher than the 266 registered in 2017 before the Thomas Fire, one of the largest wildfires recorded in the state’s history.
“That is something we have never seen since we’ve been putting this brush index together, and in the worst days we have seen that before fires start, we already know that the fuel for the conditions like that exists right now in a fire that is only 15 percent contained,” Garcetti said.
A total of 7,091 residences are within the mandatory evacuation zone and roads have been closed including sections of Sunset and Sepulveda Blvds.
The Los Angeles Fire Department saved thousands of homes, but firefighters were “literally overwhelmed” and had to make “tough decisions” on which houses to save, LAFD spokesman Erik Scott said. Several of the destroyed homes are located in the affluent neighborhood of Brentwood.
“We want people to be evacuated, to grab their belongings that have been predetermined, take care of their pets, their medications, their papers and to leave that area because the fire is moving right into that area,” Scott said.
Garcetti said that following a thorough investigation, the cause of the fire was “an act of God” as a branch ripped by the winds from a eucalyptus tree some 25 feet away from power lines has been blamed for igniting the brush blaze.
An investigation included dashcam footage of the fire erupting and the tree was well over the required distance from powerlines, but the wind was of such strength that the branch was carried to the lines, causing sparks to fall, he said.
“This was, simply put in plain parlance, an act of God,” he said.
Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said they’d never returned a cause for a major fire so quickly before.
“It is an accidental start,” he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a separate news conference that 43 counties were under red flag warnings due to historic or near historic winds.
“This has been a tough week,” he said. “This has been a long week.”
On Sunday, Newsom declared a state of emergency to combat several fires threatening California, including the Northern California Kincade Fire, which has burned over 76,000 acres and was only 15 percent contained by Tuesday night. However, wind gusts are expected to reach 50 mph on Wednesday. The fire is located in Sonoma County, part of California’s famous wine country.
The fire has destroyed almost 190 structures, including 86 homes, and was threatening another 80,435 residences, Cal Fire said.
Over 4,800 firefighters were battling the flames with nearly 560 engines, 75 of which came from Oregon and others from as far as Montana, Newsom said.
FEMA and the Trump administration have been “extraordinarily supportive and helpful” as they have answered every request the state has made, Newsom said.
“It’s all about mutuality, it’s all about our commonwealth, it’s all about — dare I say it — our humanity,” he said. “These are the moments when humanity is at scale.”
Pacific Gas & Electric said it would cut power Tuesday to nearly 600,000 customers in 29 counties as a fire prevention measure. The shutoff could last until Thursday, based on wind forecasts, the utility said. The company has been switching off power to wind-prone areas in recent weeks, affecting millions of residents.
PG&E said Monday its lines may be responsible for two new fires.