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The Latest: Fire near LA has damaged or destroyed homes

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Posted at 9:00 PM, Oct 24, 2019

GEYSERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on the wildfires in California (all times local):

8:45 p.m.

Authorities say crews will work through the night battling a wind-whipped wildfire that has damaged or destroyed at least six homes north of Los Angeles.

Authorities say the blaze that erupted Thursday in Canyon Country has spread to 6 square miles (15 square kilometers) and is uncontained.

Authorities say the initial fire spread embers that started spot fires that have been contained.

No injuries have been reported, but at least 40,000 people remain under evacuation orders.

The fire was spread by hot, gusty Santa Ana winds that eased a bit after nightfall but are expected to resume, possibly with greater force, overnight into Friday.

To prevent power lines from being toppled by the winds and sparking wildfires, Southern California Edison cut power to more than 27,000 customers on Thursday. The utility is considering additional power cuts to more than 386,000 customers.


7:40 p.m.

Authorities say a wind-whipped fire in Northern California's wine country has burned 49 buildings and prompted evacuation orders for 2,000 people.

The fire that began Wednesday night near Geyserville had grown Thursday night to 25 square miles (65 square kilometers).

Fire officials say 1,300 firefighters will work through the night and hundreds more may join the battle Friday morning.

The cause is under investigation but Pacific Gas & Electric says it had a transmission line problem in the area minutes before the fire was reported.

PG&E had cut power to parts of 17 counties to prevent wind-related power line problems that might spark fires but said it didn't deenergize the transmission line because wind speeds there didn't call for it.

In the south, crews are fighting two wind-whipped fires north of Los Angeles that have burned at least a handful of homes and prompted evacuation orders for 40,000 people.


6:40 p.m.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is informing officials of another massive power shutdown expected this weekend throughout Northern California starting Saturday night and lasting into Monday.

The shutdown could affect 2 million people, much like a widespread pre-emptive blackout earlier this month.

It would be the third such shutdown in three weeks.

Utility officials said Thursday that forecasters are warning of the strongest winds this season, and possibly the strongest winds in years. They said hot, dry winds could knock over utility equipment and spark wildfires.

PG&E chief executive Bill Johnson said the utility will have a better idea Friday of which areas would lose power and how long the outages might last.

Notice was given to counties in the Sierra foothills and the San Francisco Bay Area.


6:30 p.m.

Pacific Gas & Electric says it's too soon to know whether faulty equipment started a wind-whipped fire in Northern California wine country.

The utility told state regulators that it learned of a transmission level outage on Wednesday night in the Geysers, the world's largest geothermal field. The wildfire was reported minutes later in the same area.

CEO Bill Johnson said Thursday that conducting wire on a PG&E transmission tower malfunctioned but that authorities haven't determined what started the fire.

Johnson said the tower is 43 years old, which isn't uncommon in the industry, and had been inspected four times in the last two years. He said the tower appears to have been in "excellent condition."

PG&E cut power to distribution lines in the area, but not transmission lines because the wind speed didn't call for it.


6 p.m.

Authorities say they've ordered at least 40,000 people to evacuate as wind-driven fires rage near neighborhoods north of Los Angeles.

Several homes burned Thursday as two fires fanned by powerful winds swept through dry brush to the edge of communities in the Santa Clarita area. No injuries have been immediately reported.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby says there is no containment of either blaze.

The flames are fed by dry winds that are predicted to strengthen across the region. Forecasters say peak gusts could top 70 mph (112 kph).


5:35 p.m.

A utility says it had a problem with a transmission tower near where a wildfire ignited in Northern California wine country, prompting a large evacuation.

Pacific Gas & Electric filed a report with the state utilities commission Thursday saying it became aware of a transmission level outage in the Geysers in Sonoma County around 9:20 p.m. Wednesday.

The wildfire was reported minutes later in the same area, although it is not clear whether the malfunction sparked the blaze.

The state's largest utility preemptively shut off power in Northern California on Thursday in a bid to prevent toppled electrical lines from igniting wildfires in dry, hot gusty winds.

Power was shut off to distribution lines but not to transmission lines.


4:35 p.m.

At least two houses burned when flames raced up a hillside to the edge of a Southern California neighborhood, not far from a larger blaze that's threatening hundreds of homes.

People used hoses Thursday to try to protect their properties before aircraft began dropping water on the area in Castaic, north of Los Angeles. Television news footage showed the roof of one house on fire.

About 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, authorities ordered people in 500 homes in Santa Clarita to evacuate after heavy winds pushed a fire that started on rural hillsides toward a subdivision.

That blaze has consumed more than 1,000 acres. No injuries have been reported.

Authorities closed northbound lanes of Interstate 5, a key artery between Los Angeles and areas north.


3:20 p.m.

Firefighters are protecting homes from a wind-whipped fire that's roaring toward subdivisions north of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles County officials say the fire has grown to some 850 acres in just a few hours in the Canyon County area of Santa Clarita.

No homes have burned, but some evacuations are underway. Heavy smoke is shrouding the area, which is consuming brushy hills surrounded by neighborhoods.

The flames are fed by dry winds that are predicted to strengthen throughout the day across the region. Forecasters say peak gusts could top 70 mph (112 kph).


2:40 p.m.

Firefighters are protecting horse farms and other rural properties from a fast-growing blaze in a Southern California canyon.

Los Angeles County officials say the fire quickly consumed more than 200 acres (90 hectares) of dry brush after breaking out Thursday in the Canyon Country area of Santa Clarita.

Television news helicopter footage showed outbuildings and at least one car on fire on a property about an hour north of downtown Los Angeles.

The flames are fed by dry winds that are predicted to strengthen throughout the day across the region. Forecasters say peak gusts could top 70 mph (112 kph).

To the southeast, firefighters have made good progress against a fire that prompted evacuations earlier the day near the city of San Bernardino.


1 p.m.

The power is off to prevent utility company equipment from sparking wildfires for the fourth time in the Northern California town of Paradise since last November, where 85 people died in the fire that largely destroyed the community.

The town's Ace Hardware store is one of the few businesses open Thursday and motorists used to the outages are politely treating darkened traffic lights like four-way stop intersections.

Store manager Brenda Miller says she uses a wood stove for heat and battery-operated lanterns when the power is out.

She says she sympathizes with residents of wine country in Sonoma County as they flee a fast-growing wildfire.

Miller says: "They're leaving their homes, they don't know when they can get back in there, and it's a mess."


12:40 p.m.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick says about 2,000 people are under evacuation orders from a fast-moving fire in Northern California's wine country.

The fire is bringing back memories of the devastating and deadly blazes that killed 44 in the area two years ago.

Essick says many people felt better prepared Thursday than they were two years ago, but that doesn't mean they should wait to leave.

Essick says officials have had problems with some people not wanting to evacuate. He says firefighters need to fight the fire rather than worry about rescuing people.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection incident commander Mike Parkes says the fire started Wednesday night near the Geysers.

It is the world's largest geothermal field, with nearly two dozen power plants drawing steam from more than 350 mountain wells to create electricity.

__This version corrects the last name of the incident commander to Parkes, not Parks.


11:30 a.m.

The head of California's state firefighting force says weather conditions have improved and that authorities hope to begin containing a big wildfire in Sonoma County's wine country by nightfall.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Fire Chief Thom Porter told reporters Thursday that the agency has moved this year to preposition trucks when fire conditions are dangerous.

He says that allows firefighters to quickly control fires and that only one out of more than 600 in the state over the last two days has become significant.

The Sonoma County fire broke out late Wednesday and exploded to more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) due to extremely windy and dry weather affecting the state. In Sonoma County, Porter said 100 firetrucks were ready to respond.


11:20 a.m.

California's utilities have been cutting power to areas to try to prevent their electrical equipment from starting fires but California's governor is criticizing the scale of the outages by the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. utility.

The outages Thursday cut off power for tens of thousands of customers for the second time this month.

Gov. Gavin Newsom says he's infuriated that California is world renowned for its high-tech industry but that residents must endure the power outages.

Newsom is a Democrat and is also urging people to respect utility workers as they do their jobs in the field.

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said Wednesday that someone fired a pellet gun at a worker in California's northern Glenn County.

A big fire is in Northern California in the wine country of Sonoma County has burned at least three homes and prompted the evacuation of the town of Geyserville.


11:15 a.m.

A resident of the Northern California community evacuated as a wildfire raged says he fled with his wife as flames surrounded both sides of their driveway.

Harry Bosworth said Thursday that he saw his barn in Geyserville catch fire as they drove away.

Hundreds of people in the Sonoma County wine country town were ordered to evacuate shortly before dawn.

The fire erupted late Wednesday and expanded to more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) by Thursday as morning powerful winds swept the region.

The mayor of the neighboring town of Healdsburg says a shelter with mental health counselors has been set up for those fleeing Geyserville.

Mayor David Hagele says the mental health counselors are needed because many evacuees are survivors of devastating wine country fires that killed 44 people two years ago and when many people lost their homes.


9:50 a.m.

Flames are no longer visible from a wildfire in Southern California but mandatory and voluntary evacuations remain in place as Santa Ana winds gust through the region and create extreme fire risk.

The fire broke out early Thursday about 60 miles (97 kilometers) east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino National Forest near the city of San Bernardino.

The U.S. Forest service says in a statement that firefighters have made good progress but have not established containment lines around the area where vegetation is still smoldering.

TV images have shown the scorched landscape with no flames apparent and little smoke.

The Forest Service says 80 homes are under evacuation in the city and a Red Cross shelter has opened at a high school.

Very dry air and strong winds are affecting much of California, including the wine county north of San Francisco Bay where a huge wildfire has forced evacuations and burned at least three homes.


9:20 a.m.

A fire burning in Northern California's wine county is still growing.

But California Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Jonathan Cox says winds that gusted as high as 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour overnight have eased slightly since dawn on Thursday. That could help firefighters.

Officials ordered hundreds of people to immediately evacuate the town of Geyserville as the fire raged.

It's not clear whether the area was also affected by the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. utility's pre-emptive power shutoffs put in place to prevent the company's equipment from sparking fires.

An Associated Press photographer saw at least three burned homes in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

Cox says it's too early for firefighters to assess the structures that have burned.


8:35 a.m.

The Southern California Edison utility has cut power to more than 15,000 Southern California customers as gusty Santa Ana winds sweep parts of the region and raise the risk of wildfires.

The utility is also considering additional power cuts Thursday to more than 286,000 customers to prevent wildfires ignited by downed lines or branches blown into them.

The moves came as a fire rages in the wine country of Northern California's Sonoma County that has destroyed at least three homes and prompted the evacuation of the small community of Geyserville.

At least two fires have erupted in Southern California but they have remained small.


8:25 a.m.

Mary Ceglarski-Sherwin and her husband Matt Ceglarski-Sherwin lost their rental home in the Northern California city of Santa Rosa during a series of deadly fires two years ago.

Early Thursday, they and their two dogs were evacuating from their new home in the community of Geyserville in Sonoma County's wine country with the 72-hour emergency kits they'd acquired during the last fire, they told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat .

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office issued orders for Geyserville's evacuation shortly before dawn as a wind-drive wildfire raged.

Mary Ceglarski-Sherwin says at 3 a.m. she told her husband "we gotta go, we gotta go; I can feel it changing."

She says they could feel the fire's heat and see its smoke when they headed for an evacuation shelter.


7:30 a.m.

Northern California authorities have ordered the entire town of Geyserville evacuated as a wind-driven wildfire rages through the wine country north of San Francisco Bay.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office issued orders for immediate evacuation of the community shortly before dawn Thursday.

Geyserville has about 900 residents and is a popular stop for wine country tourists.

The fire erupted late Wednesday and exploded in size overnight to more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers),

At least three homes have burned. There are no reports of injuries.

A statement from the sheriff's office says: "If you're in Geyserville, leave now."


7:20 a.m.

An Associated Press photographer has seen three homes destroyed by a wind-driven wildfire that is raging through wine country in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

The photographer reported Thursday that the homes burned in the community of Jimtown.

The fire erupted late Wednesday and expanded to more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) before dawn Thursday as powerful winds swept the region.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office says evacuations have been ordered but the number of people affected is not known. There are no reports of injuries.


12:15 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands of Californians are without power for the second time in two weeks as dangerously windy weather prompts safety shutdowns.

Pacific Gas & Electric on Wednesday and Thursday cut power to about a half-million people from the Sierra foothills to portions of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Outages that could last 48 hours seek to keep gusts from pummeling power lines and sparking devastating wildfires.

Northern winds are expected to ease Thursday but pick up where Southern California Edison warned it might black out about 308,000 customers. San Diego Gas & Electric warned about 24,000 customers could lose power.

PG&E blacked out about 2 million people just two weeks ago, drawing criticism. The utility says outages were more targeted this time, but more are possible Saturday with dry gusts in the north.