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California Firefighters Continue Battling Blazes, Even as Winds Subside


Cal Fire firefighters look on as a plane drops fire retardant on the Maria Fire in Santa Paula, Calif., Nov. 1, 2019.

Firefighters continued to battle wildfires in California Friday, including a new fast-moving blaze in southern California.

Officials said a brush fire north of Los Angeles, known as the Maria Fire, grew to 3,700 hectares (9,100 acres) Friday after erupting late Thursday afternoon, despite calmer weather conditions that helped firefighters throughout the state.

Officials said the fire in Ventura County forced officials to order evacuations for 8,000 people and said the blaze destroyed at least two structures.

A report in the Los Angeles Times said the firefighting work using water-dousing helicopters was interrupted by the appearance of illegal drones. At least two helicopters were grounded until authorities were sure the sky was clear.

The Santa Ana winds, which blow dry air from the desert and have fueled fires across the state, began to die down Friday and more typical winds that blow from the ocean inland began to return. However, firefighters said the state is not out of danger, noting the change in winds exposes new areas to the threat of fire.

"We are finding that the winds are starting to change and that presents its own challenges all by itself," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said.

Erratic winds are expected to persist in Southern California through Saturday.

A charred lawn chair overlooks a valley filled with smoke from the Kincade Fire near Healdsburg, Calif., Nov. 1, 2019.
A charred lawn chair overlooks a valley filled with smoke from the Kincade Fire near Healdsburg, Calif., Nov. 1, 2019.

Climate change activist

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, was in Los Angeles Friday for a climate rally and talked about the wildfires to the crowd.

“Today in California, we can see the wildfires happening just around the corner, wildfires that are being intensified by the climate crisis,” Thunberg said. “Right now we are living in the beginning of a climate and ecological breakdown and we cannot continue to look away from this crisis anymore.”

Elsewhere across the state, the diminishing winds helped fire crews tame blazes that have been plaguing the region.

In Simi Valley, officials said a blaze that burned close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was 60% contained, while a separate fire that threatened the Getty Center Museum was 66% contained.

In Northern California, more people were allowed to return to areas evacuated because of the Kincade Fire, which burned through more than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of the state's wine country.

PG&E and Kincade Fire

Pacific Gas & Electric acknowledged last week that one of its live power lines might have sparked the Kincade blaze, named for the local street where the flames erupted. It said a transmission tower malfunctioned around the same time and place as the fire is believed to have begun.

California Governor Gavin Newsom threatened a possible takeover of the utility Friday, unless it can emerge from bankruptcy next year with a plan focused on safety.

California authorities blame PG&E lines for sparking last year's wildfires that killed 85 people and destroyed entire towns. The utility, facing billions of dollars in lawsuits, was forced to declare bankruptcy earlier this year.

PG&E has also come under scrutiny this year for cutting off power to more than a million homes, some with little notice, to avoid power lines sparking new fires. The company said Thursday that most of the 1.1 million customers impacted by planned power outages have had service restored.

The wildfires across California forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.