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California Governor Gavin Newsom says there are hopes that by later Monday the near historic winds that are driving a huge wildfire in the northern part of the state will “substantially settle down” as some 3,000 people work to put out the blaze.
“We’re not out of the woods, but we are leaning in the right direction,” Newsom said at a late Sunday briefing.
The western U.S. state is commonly hit by numerous wildfires at this time of year with the combination of low humidity and strong winds combining to create favorable conditions for fire growth.
Firefighters had said the Kincade Fire, named for a local road where the flames are believed to have started in Sonoma County, was at 10% containment, but as of late Sunday that had dropped to 5% with the fire at about 22,000 hectares in size.
Cal Fire said the blaze had already destroyed about 100 structures.
California State Senator Mike McGuire said 4,600 people have gone to shelters in Sonoma County.
Statewide, about 180,000 people have evacuated their homes to seek safety from wildfires.
Newsom declared a state of emergency Sunday and said there is “no question” the evacuations have saved lives.
“Go means go,” he said, encouraging people to heed any evacuation orders.
In Southern California, fire officials said a much smaller wildfire in Santa Clarita near Los Angeles was 70% contained, but not before it destroyed several dozen buildings.
The California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to nearly 1 million homes and businesses across Northern California, some with little notice, as part of a strategy to try to prevent surges from downed power lines sparking more fires.
Businesses are angry that the power cuts have cost them tens of thousands of dollars, and residents bitterly complain about the inconvenience of going days without electricity, especially those who need power for life-saving medical devices.
California authorities blame PG&E lines for sparking last year’s wildfires that killed 85 people and destroyed entire towns. The utility, facing billions of dollars in lawsuits, was forced to declare bankruptcy earlier this year.
Governor Newsom, who had criticized the utilities, said the state will spend $75 million to help residents and businesses deal with the power cuts. He said the state has a lot of work to do toward putting electrical wires underground and to manage forests in order to prevent both wildfire damage and the need to shut off the power.