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High Winds Boost Risk of Spreading Southern California Fire

A firefighter hoses a hot spot while battling the Kincade Fire in Geyserville, Calif., Oct. 24, 2019.
A firefighter hoses a hot spot while battling the Kincade Fire in Geyserville, Calif., Oct. 24, 2019.

As winds that have driven a large wildfire in Northern California ease, firefighters in the southern part of the state are preparing for what forecasters expect to be one of the most significant wind events in years and the possibility it could spread flames from a fire burning west of Los Angeles.

Both regions are dealing with the hot, dry weather that is common this time of year and raises the risk of big wildfires that spread when the winds blow.

Crews made progress Tuesday in containing both the Getty Fire in the south and the Kincade Fire in the north, with officials saying each was 15% contained.

The worry Wednesday and into Thursday is that the Getty Fire could swell from its current size of about 265 hectares as winds forecasted to reach as much as 128 kilometers per hour lift embers and spread them into unburned vegetation, or reignite areas that are merely smoldering.

Fire officials also warned that high winds could lead to the grounding of helicopters used to douse the flames from above.

In Northern California's wine region, officials are expressing more optimism about the weather after days of near-record winds there pushed the Kincade Fire to more than 30,000 hectares in size.

The National Weather Service said winds would be noticeably lighter Wednesday and that weather conditions look favorable for the rest of the week, even though the region will remain dry with no rain in the forecast.

Along with the fires, people in California are also dealing with power shutoffs as utility companies try to prevent fires being sparked by equipment damaged by strong winds.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said Tuesday the Getty Fire was likely caused by a tree branch that was broken off by high winds and flew into nearby power lines, causing sparks that ignited brush.

About one million customers in Northern California are dealing with blackouts instituted by utility company Pacific Gas & Electric, which this month has been shutting off power in a series of blackouts that have caused widespread frustration among its customers.

The state's governor Gavin Newsom has repeatedly criticized the company and its projections that it needs 10 years to institute reforms that would make the precautionary power shutoffs no longer necessary to mitigate fire risks.

"Good enough never is, and we're not even close to where we need to be in this state," Newsom said Tuesday.

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