Deadly Brush Fire Destroys Dozens of California Homes
At a Glance
- Human remains were found in the scorched earth left behind by the Tick Fire.
- Evacuation orders have grown to nearly 90,000 people in Sonoma County, the location of the Kincade Fire.
- Pacific Gas and Electric has begun to shut off power in parts of 36 counties on Saturday.
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Human remains were found Saturday in Southern California in the scorched path of the Tick Fire while nearly 90,000 Northern Californians have been ordered to evacuate due to the escalating threat of a dangerous wildfire. Power outages will impact an estimated 3 million people this weekend ahead of what could be a day of disaster in the northern portion of the state.
Authorities say human remains were found within the burned area of the large Tick Fire that scorched at least six houses in Southern California suburbs.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says that it's too soon to know if the death is connected to the fire in Santa Clarita. The death is under investigation.
The Tick Fire in Santa Clarita, just outside of Los Angeles, started Thursday afternoon and triggered evacuation orders for 50,000 people. Most were allowed to return to their homes Saturday morning when the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station lifted evacuation orders. The blaze had burned about 7.2 square miles and was 25 percent contained.
In Northern California, the power outages and evacuations come as high winds and hot, dry conditions are set to roar on Sunday, likely setting the stage for fires.
The large blaze known as the Kincade Fire continues to grow, prompting Cal Fire to issue evacuation orders for the towns of Healdsburg and nearby Windsor in Sonoma County, as well as some surrounding communities. The order covers 50,000 people, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Additional evacuations orders were issued early Saturday evening for western and southern Sonoma County all the way to the Pacific Coast, including parts of Santa Rosa and all of Guerneville, Jenner, Bodega Bay, Occidental, and Forestville, California. This includes an additional 39,000 people.
This is the largest evacuation in Sonoma County history.
"Fire is not something you can fight," the Sonoma County Sheriff warned on Saturday evening. He reminded everyone 24 lives were lost in Sonoma County in 2017 due to wildfires.
Pacific Gas and Electric is beginning to cut power to about 940,000 customers in parts of 36 counties in a precautionary move aimed at preventing more wildfires. That means the blackouts have the potential to affect more than 3 million people when taking into account the number who live in each household and other factors.
The Kincade Fire had burned nearly 40 square miles by Saturday afternoon and was 10% contained, according to Cal Fire. In addition to the firefighters there were 10 helicopters, 179 engines and heavy equipment including 24 bulldozers on the scene. Of the structures burned, 31 were homes and 46 were outbuildings.
The Kincade Fire was first reported near Geyserville on Wednesday and subsequently exploded in size. Officials fear that this weekend's high winds could ground water-dropping aircraft and blow hot embers far ahead of the fire to spark new blazes.
"You can't fight a fire that's spotting ahead of itself a quarter of a mile, half a mile, in some cases a mile ahead of itself," Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathan Cox told the Associated Press.
Containment efforts took a dangerous turn on Friday when one firefighter had to deploy his personal fire shelter to save two residents trying to flee the blaze.
“While working on an active portion of the fire, the firefighter came across two civilians who were attempting to evacuate from the fire when fire activity intensified,” officials said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “At that point the firefighter was forced to deploy his fire shelter, where he shielded them from fire.”
Fire shelters are generally used as a last resort when there is no other way to escape the flames. The incident, which happened around 6:20 p.m. CDT Friday, left fire crews shaken, the Chronicle reported. The firefighter and the two civilians were taken to a hospital for evaluation but did not appear to have serious injuries.
The cause of the Kincaid Fire was under investigation, but there were some indications that a PG&E power line may have sparked the blaze. The utility turned off power to some 200,000 customers ahead of the mid-week fire threat, but said a transmission line near the origin of the fire was still energized and it malfunctioned around the time flames broke out.
As the blaze grew in size, residents watched and waited. Tina Tavares clutched her dog Savannah outside a shelter Friday afternoon. She told the Chronicle she had evacuated from her home on Wednesday, and spent much of Friday praying.
“I can’t explain it,” the 70-year-old Tavares said. “It’s like you’re in a bad earthquake, the ground is opening up swallowing people and you’re seeing it and don’t know what to do.”
In October 2017, the Tubbs Fire burned nearly 58 square miles in parts of Napa and Sonoma counties. The fire killed 22 people and destroyed 5,636 structures.
The planned power outages had residents, business owners and others on edge.
Jeff Cave lost his home in the Tubbs Fire. He's executive director of an assisted living facility in Santa Rosa, which frantically evacuated its residents as the blaze burned nearby two years ago, according to the Mercury News.
“Going through the fire and the smoke and all that, it triggers you when the lights go off,” Cave told the newspaper. “It’s just like — everything’s quiet.”
The outages will target parts of 36 counties including portions of Humboldt, the Sierra foothills, Western Sacramento Valley, North Bay, and across the greater Bay area, Monterey Bay and northern Central Coast, PG&E said in a press release Friday afternoon.
Forecasters and PG&E warned that the winds could be among the strongest observed in the region in years.
"This will be a long duration and potentially extreme/historic event across the North Bay," the National Weather Service's Bay Area office warned on its website.
Red flag warnings and high wind warnings were in effect, mostly across northern California, from Saturday night into Monday. The NWS warned that wind gusts could reach 80 mph near mountain summits, 60 mph below the summits and 55 mph across large parts of the San Francisco Bay area.
Several other fires were also burning around the region.
Two new fires that broke out Friday prompted evacuations. The Miller Fire near Valley Center, about 38 miles north of San Diego, burned three structures and damaged one other. The fire had burned about 37 acres as of Saturday morning and was 70 percent contained. Some 100 personnel, 4 helicopters and 10 engines were battling the blaze.
The Sawday Fire had burned nearly 100 acres and was also 70 percent contained. Evacuations were ordered on Friday but later lifted.
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