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California wildfires: People flee as blaze burns homes outside Vacaville

APTOPIX California Wildfires
Posted at 10:15 AM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 12:15:19-04

Wildfires tore through populated areas of Northern California's rural wine country early Wednesday, burning some homes and sending people fleeing in the dark, authorities said.

The fires just west of Vacaville, between San Francisco and Sacramento, are among dozens of blazes burning in parts of the state. And they come amid a brutal heat wave and power outages -- both intentional and unintentional -- as the power grid struggles to keep up with demand.

An undetermined number of homes have burned outside Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 residents, Solano County sheriff's spokesman Le'Ron Cummings said.

Earlier, a Solano County sheriff's dispatcher told CNN that there were "numerous locations where people are trying to get out, and we're working our way up to them."

Thuy Ngo watched Wednesday morning as fire consumed a barn and equipment on his 30-acre farmland. He lives elsewhere but was on the property with his wife and two sons the prior night, watering the land and securing his chickens because he'd seen smoke in the distance.

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"We didn't think the fire would come down here this fast," he told CNN. "It's just heart-wrenching. ... It's just gone."

The Vacaville-area fire is part of the LNU Lightning Complex fires -- a series of wildfires that started Monday and Tuesday and have burned more than 46,000 acres in the northern Bay Area counties of Napa, Sonoma and Solano, state and county officials said.

More than two dozen wildfires were burning across the state early Wednesday. In Northern California, where some fires were started by lightning and have burned through more than 145,000 acres, evacuations were ordered in several counties as the blazes threatened structures.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency Tuesday to deploy resources to "combat fires burning across the state which have been exacerbated by the effects of the historic West Coast heat wave and sustained high winds."

Just west of Vacaville, evacuations were ordered early Wednesday for all of Pleasants Valley Road and its connecting streets, as well as the English Hills area, the city's fire district said on Twitter.

Fires jumped across some roads, threatening to make passage difficult. In part of Napa County, video posted by freelance photojournalist Ethan Swope showed flames right up to the edges of Steele Canyon Road as he drove on it Tuesday night. Smoke made it difficult to see more than a few feet ahead.

A photo from the Associated Press showed a mobile home and a vehicle burning in unincorporated Napa County on Tuesday night. Details about how many structures the fire had burned by early Wednesday weren't immediately available.

On Tuesday morning, as flames were approaching Napa County's 130-year-old Nichelini Family Winery, employees helped firefighters by opening gates and helping them access water, CNN affiliate KPIX reported.

"We're always prepared for a fire," owner Phil Sunseri told the station. "We prepare every year. We fire-safe our structures, we prepare our buildings, and when things like this happen, we just execute our plan to keep it as safe and free from fire as we can."

"The fires can be overwhelming," he said, "and you just do the best you can."

Evacuation orders across California

The fires come as California battles what some experts are calling historic weather conditions. Nearly 45 million people across the West are under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory Wednesday. High temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity are forecast, conditions that will likely contribute to a significant spread of both new and existing wildfires.

In Monterey County well south of San Jose, evacuations were issued for the Carmel Fire, burning southeast of Carmel Valley Village Tuesday, CNN affiliate KSBW reported. The Carmel Fire has burned about 1,200 acres and had no containment as of Tuesday night, Cal Fire reported.

Late Tuesday, the Monterey County Sheriff's Office announced a mandatory evacuation due to another fire, the River Fire. The River Fire was 7% contained Tuesday night, according to Cal Fire. Both of the fires are in Monterey County, about 90 miles from San Jose, the department said.

California fire officials announced more evacuations late Tuesday night for the state's largest set of wildfires, the SCU Lightning Complex.

That's about 20 separate blazes burning in steep, rugged terrain, fueled by the extreme heat and low humidity, according to the department. More than 35,000 acres have been charred and two people have been injured, fire officials said.

And Wednesday temperatures, which fire officials say are expected to rise to the triple digits, will be no help.

"Firefighters look to take advantage of cooler temperatures this evening to build and strengthen containment lines across all zones," the department said late Tuesday. The fires were about 4% contained Tuesday night.

Evacuation orders have been issued for parts of Alameda County and Contra Costa County.

37,000 without power

Meanwhile, more than 37,000 customers were without power across the state, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) told CNN Tuesday night.

"Extreme heat and electricity demand has caused outages in parts of Los Angeles," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter.

LADWP, the nation's largest municipal utility with a total of 1.5 million customers in the City of Los Angeles, said approximately 12,000 of those customers were in the dark Tuesday night.

"The outages that we're experiencing tonight are related to strained equipment in the field, transformers and distributing stations that become overheated which has led to many localized outages," an LADWP spokesperson said. "Our crews are out there and will make progress overnight."

Separately, PG&E said 25,717 of their customers are also without power throughout Northern and Central California.

7 heat records broken

With an excessive heat wave across the state, California weather officials said at least seven temperature records were broken.

Burbank beat its previous 1986 record, hitting 109 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday, while Paso Robles beat a more than 50-year record with a staggering 111 degrees on Tuesday. Camarillo, Long Beach and Woodland Hills were also included in the record-breaking areas.

In a Twitter warning, the National Weather Service said that "summer is hot, but this is different."

"These are record high temperatures in what is typically one of the hottest times of the year," the service said. "These are dangerous conditions that should be taken seriously to avoid heat-related illness."

Historic fire scorching parts of Colorado

California isn't the only state facing spreading wildfires. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday he'll be taking executive action to reduce the fire risks across the state, as several wildfires remain out of control.

At least four blazes have already burned through more than 130,000 acres.

The largest, the Pine Gulch Fire, was caused by lightning and has charred through 87,000 acres and was 7% contained as of late Tuesday.

It's the third-largest wildfire in the state's history, according to CNN affiliate KMGH.

The Grizzly Creek Fire, at about 27,000 acres, is 4% contained.

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