(Reuters) – A pair of wildfires has destroyed dozens of homes near Los Angeles, killed a man and forced some 100,000 residents to evacuate, fire officials said on Friday, days after power cuts were ordered across the state to prevent fires.
In the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, the so-called Saddleridge fire had spread to more than 4,700 acres by Friday morning, moving at a rate of 800 acres per hour, the Los Angeles Fire Department said at a news conference. It is still completely uncontained.
Officials said one civilian man had died of cardiac arrest, which they attributed to the Saddleridge Fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Some 23,000 homes and some 100,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders on Friday morning and should not expect the orders to be lifted for at least a few days, department officials said.
“This is a very dynamic fire,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters. “Do not wait to leave.”
Authorities were also fighting overnight to contain the Sandalwood Fire in Riverside County, which had scorched about 820 acres near Calimesa, about 70 miles east of downtown Los Angeles by Friday. It was only 10 percent contained as of Friday morning, Riverside County Fire Department (RCFD) officials said.
The latest blazes, among about 275 wildfires that have broken out so far this year, come one year after the deadliest and most destructive fire season ever recorded in California, with about 100 residents and firefighters killed in 2018.
More than 8,500 wildfires erupted last year, scorching more than 1.8 million acres and causing billions of dollars of damage.
In the San Fernando Valley, the Saddleridge Fire prompted several highway closures and had already destroyed at least 25 homes in Sylmar and Porter Ranch, two neighborhoods on the northwest outskirts of Los Angeles, where authorities called in bulldozers, helicopters and other heavy equipment to try to contain it.
It may take several days to contain because of the dry and windy weather conditions, officials said.
The Sandalwood fire, named after a local landmark, erupted on Thursday afternoon when a garbage truck dumped burning trash that spread onto vegetation, the RCFD and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said in a statement.
Much of Northern California, from San Francisco to the Oregon border, remains under a state “red flag” fire alert.
Firefighters have been able to quickly contain most of the other blazes that erupted across California.
The risk to life and property prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co cut power to about 730,000 customers, a move that California Governor Gavin Newsom blamed on years of mismanagement by the utility.
By late Thursday, PG&E announced it had restored power to more than half of those affected, and about 312,000 remained without electricity.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from major wildfires linked to its transmission wires and other equipment.
As winds moved south, a similar cutoff was under way by Southern California Edison, which warned more than 173,000 customers that they could lose power.
Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Rich McKay, Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Pravin Char and Nick Zieminski