80 MPH Winds Fan Explosive Southern California Wildfire

A meteor streaks across the sky as gusty winds create an ember cast on a valley oak tree burned by the Kincade fire, early Wednesday morning in Knights Valley east of Healdsburg, Calif. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

(CN) – Firefighters in Southern California battled multiple wildfires in the middle of record-breaking wind gusts on Wednesday, forcing 26,000 residents to flee their homes with one blaze growing to 1,600 acres and coming close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

Fires were fanned by persistent Santa Ana winds throughout Wednesday, with nine fires reported at one time during the day.

The Easy Fire was first reported after 6 a.m. Wednesday in the foothill community of Simi Valley as strong winds buffeted the flames that drew close to the library campus.

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said strong winds will continue overnight and keep firefighters busy battling the Easy Fire. Strong wind gusts are expected overnight that could range from 50 to 70 mph, according to the National Weather Service, which issued an Extreme Red Flag Warning through Thursday evening.

“We still are not through this,” said Lorenzen. “We have a good another 24 hours of significant weather conditions.”

It took just 90 minutes for the Easy Fire to consume over 500 acres, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. About 26,000 people have been ordered to flee, and some 7,000 homes in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley are threatened. One home has been destroyed so far.

The fast-moving fire burned close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, but firefighters were able to hold off the forward progress.

“The fire outflanked us very rapidly today, pushed by those 40 to 50 mph winds,” said Chad Cook with the Ventura County Fire Department. “We did experience gusts up to 65 mph this morning, which made long range spotting very, very dangerous.”

Firefighters from a dozen states have reported to California in the last week in response to the wildfire conditions. At one point on Wednesday, there were more than nine wildfires reported throughout the Southern California region that ranged from small brushfires to major wildfires that prompted evacuations.

There was no official cause to the Easy Fire as of Wednesday evening. But Southern California Edison confirmed its equipment was energized during the reported time and location of the Easy Fire, according to spokesperson Robert Villegas.

The utility noted its top priority is customer, employee and community safety. SoCal Edison said out of an abundance of caution, they reported to state regulators they will be investigating the incident.

“SCE is conducting a review into the circumstances surrounding the fire and will cooperate with all investigations into the origin and cause,” Villegas said.

Overnight, 80 mph Santa Ana winds racked canyons and ridges in the area, and the National Weather Service says strong, dry winds will continue to fan flames through Thursday. The cause of the fire remains under investigation and is zero percent contained.

In Northern California, the Kincade Fire grew to 76,825 acres with containment also growing to 30%. The blaze in Sonoma County prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to issue strategic power shutoffs to avoid electrical equipment being knocked down by strong winds and sparking additional wildfires.

On Tuesday, PG&E said it would provide rebates to customers impacted by the Oct. 9 power shutoffs that left millions of customers without power across approximately 30 counties for days.

“We understand that power shutoffs are more than an inconvenience for our customers,” PG&E CEO William Johnson said at a press conference Tuesday evening. “We did not live up to their expectations when it came to communicating.”

Amid the chaos of the Kincade Fire, PG&E cut off power to customers about 15 hours earlier than previously announced on Tuesday in Marin County. Then PG&E’s website crashed, so customers were unable to confirm if they would be affected by an emergency shutoff.

On a tour of another wildfire that swept through West Los Angeles on Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom said the wide swath of customers in Northern California were burdened by PG&E’s actions and failure to adequately upgrade its system to guard against severe weather. Newsom said the utility company warned customers they could be left without power for a week.

“Which is simply unacceptable and that goes to the issue of greed and mismanagement and decades of a utility that didn’t focus on you and public safety. They focused on shareholders,” said Newsom.

Back in Southern California, the Getty Fire grew to 745 acres overnight. While containment improved to 27%, the Los Angeles Fire Department lifted mandatory evacuations for some 7,000 residents in the West LA area.

That blaze was sparked by a tree branch that fell onto a power line during high winds, which investigators said caused a sparking and arching of the lines that set nearby brush on fire, according to investigators.

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