LOS ANGELES – The hurricane-force wind gusts that fanned at least 10 wildfires across the state were easing Thursday, providing a modest respite for firefighters and residents overwhelmed by evacuations, preemptive power outages and extreme fire warnings.
More than 106,000 people were without power Thursday evening because of an unrelenting series of planned outages aimed at limiting fire risk. Still, downed and sparking wires were suspected of igniting some of the blazes.
More than 17 million residents live in areas designated as critical or severe wildfire risk Thursday, the National Weather Service said. That number should fall precipitously in the next couple of days, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Paul Walker said.
“The winds have already let up somewhat in Northern California,” Walker said. “They should diminish in Los Angeles by Friday.”
The end of the wind event should also bring more amenable temperatures for firefighters who have at times been battling blazes in intense heat. But the news isn’t all good.
“Any significant rain remains two or three weeks away,” Walker said. “We won’t see more humidity. And another wind event could be coming in the middle or late next week.”
Weather conditions continued to create problems Thursday night when a brush fire erupted on South Mountain, near Santa Paula and Somis in Ventura County. The Maria Fire consumed about4,000 acres in just three hours and crews had no containment. Officials ordered 7,500 people to evacuate as the fire threatened 1,800 buildings.
The state forestry and fire protection agency Cal Fire said 10 fires had collectively consumed more than 144 square miles in recent days. At least 13,000 Californians were still under evacuation orders Thursday afternoon.
The number was down markedly from more than 200,000 last week, thanks to firefighting efforts that have allowed many residents to return home.
Southern California, however, remained cloaked in an unprecedented “extreme red flag warning” as winds fanned at least three major blazes. But as Santa Ana winds continue to threaten the southern part of the state, Southern California Edison warned that more than 223,000 customers could lose power in an effort to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.
More than 41,000 customers were without power Thursday, the company said. The utility acknowledged the Easy Fire, northwest of Los Angeles, broke out near its equipment, although the cause of the stubborn blaze remained under investigation.
In Los Angeles, a $107 million Emergency Operations Center housed in a special building east of City Hall is the nerve center for the city’s wildfire monitoring and control system.
The EOC has been opened for a series of wind-driven brush blazes this month: The Saddle Ridge Fire burned 8,799 acres and destroyed 19 structures. The 40-acre Palisades Fire crept right up to homes. Then, most recently, came the Getty Fire, which destroyed several homes and burned near the Getty Center, a prominent art museum in the city.
The center is activated as soon as a major fire is threatening, and until it’s up and running, a lot of the action takes place on a special smartphone.
“You won’t believe what it’s like carrying this phone when the fire breaks out,” said Chris Ipsen, who helped put the center together. “Your heart is pumping like crazy.”