Wildfires outside L.A. threaten homes, bypass Reagan library
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — A wind-whipped outbreak of wildfires outside Los Angeles threatened thousands of homes and horse ranches Wednesday, forced the evacuation of elderly patients in wheelchairs and narrowly bypassed the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, protected in part by a buffer zone chewed by goats.
The onslaught came as both ends of the state struggled with blazes, dangerously windy weather and deliberate blackouts.
The brush fire near the Reagan library erupted before dawn between the cities of Simi Valley and Moorpark, north of Los Angeles, and exploded to more than 1,300 acres (526 hectares), Ventura County officials said.
About 7,000 homes, or around 26,000 people, were ordered evacuated, authorities said.
"The fire outflanked us very rapidly today, pushed by those 40 to 50 mph (64 to 80 kph) winds," with gusts up 65 mph (105 kph), fire incident commander Chad Cook said.
Library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said around midmorning that the hilltop museum in Simi Valley was not damaged. She said that the flames came within about 30 yards (27 meters) of the property but that it was protected by aircraft dropping water and by a firebreak, a zone along the perimeter that had been cleared of brush by goats.
Hundreds of goats are brought in each year to eat away vegetation that could fuel wildfires on the 300-acre (120-hectare) grounds, Giller said. Reagan and his wife, Nancy, are buried next to each other on a hillside at the library.
Helicopters and airplanes attacked the blaze as some 800 firefighters battled it on the ground. The flames pushed through sparsely developed hills between suburban tract developments. Ranchers rushed to evacuate horses, goats and other livestock.
A wildfire at least 100 acres (400 hectares) in size also broke out east of Los Angeles, in Riverside County's Jurupa Valley, and workers at a health care facility feverishly evacuated elderly people in wheelchairs and gurneys amid thick smoke.
"The hot embers are just flying all over this dry grass," Capt. Fernando Herrera of the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told KABC-TV. Horses and other large animals had to be evacuated from ranches, and some outbuildings burned.
Other spots in Southern California were buffeted by fierce winds. The wind knocked over a truck along a freeway in Fontana.
Meanwhile, frustration and anger mounted across Northern California as Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the state's largest utility, undertook its third round of sweeping blackouts in a week, hoping to prevent its electrical equipment from toppling or coming into contact with branches and sparking fires.
More than 900,000 people were without power Wednesday, some of them since Saturday, by PG&E's estimate.
In wine country north of San Francisco, fire officials reported progress in their battle against a 120-square-mile (310-square-kilometer) blaze in Sonoma County, saying it was 30% contained.
The fire destroyed at least 206 structures, including 94 homes, and threatened 90,000 more, most of them homes, authorities said. More than 150,000 people were under evacuation orders.
Winds topped out at 70 mph (112 kph) north of San Francisco Bay and began to ease early Wednesday, but forecasters said the fire danger would remain high because of continuing breezes and dry air.
In Southern California, fire crews continued trying to snuff out a wildfire in the celebrity-studded hills of Los Angeles that destroyed a dozen homes on Monday. About 9,000 people, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James, were under evacuation orders.
That fire was caused when a dry branch from a eucalyptus tree was flung 30 feet (9 meters) by high winds into a city Department of Water and Power line and caused sparks, authorities said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti called it an "act of God." The city had cut away brush and trees from around the line, officials said.
The National Weather Service issued an extreme red flag warning for high winds for much of Southern California through Thursday evening, with some gusts expected to reach 80 mph (130 kph). It could be the strongest bout of winds in years.
No deaths have been reported from the fires, but toppled trees claimed three lives.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and top utility regulators have accused PG&E of mismanaging its power system and failing for decades to make the investments needed to ensure it is more durable.
PG&E President Bill Johnson said he talked to the governor and agreed to give customers affected by an Oct. 9 blackout a one-time credit on their bills, but he did not say how much.