California wildfires cause disruption and leave millions without power


Firefighters are battling wildfires in Northern California and the wealthy west side of Los Angeles that have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

California’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, cut off power to an estimated 2.5 million people in the northern part of the state over the weekend in another round of blackouts aimed at preventing windblown electrical equipment from sparking more fires.

The blaze that broke out last week amid Sonoma County’s vineyards and wineries north of San Francisco exploded to at least 103 square miles, destroying 96 buildings, including at least 40 homes, and threatening 80,000 more structures. Nearly 200,000 people were under evacuation orders, mostly from the city of Santa Rosa.

In Southern California, the Los Angeles fire erupted before dawn on Monday and roared up slopes into wealthy neighbourhoods, threatening thousands of homes. Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said that the fire had grown to 500 acres and that he had seen five burned homes.

Basketball star LeBron James tweeted that he and his family had to evacuate their home in the city’s exclusive Brentwood section.

“I pray for all the families in the area that could be affected,” he tweeted. “Pretty please get to safety ASAP.”

Movie star and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had to evacuate his home in the middle of the night and the premiere of his latest film Terminator: Dark Fate at Hollywood’s historic TCL Chinese Theatre was also cancelled.

The fire was burning in the upper elevations of the Brentwood area. The evacuation area extended westward through Pacific Palisades down to the Pacific Coast Highway, encompassing some of the most exclusive property in California, where celebrities and executives live in mountain and ridgetop retreats that cost tens of millions of dollars but are surrounded by tinder-dry vegetation.

Night-flying helicopters made water drops before daybreak, and planes unleashing water and bright pink fire retardant joined the battle after the sun came up.

The Getty, with its collection of priceless art, was built with special fire protection features, and Los Angeles fire captain Erik Scott said it was not threatened.

But Mount St Mary’s University evacuated 450 students from its Chalon campus nearby. And the University of California, Los Angeles in the city’s Westwood section cancelled classes – not because of any direct threat from the fire but because of road closings and evacuations affecting people on their way to UCLA.

Similarly in Northern California, some 40 school districts in Sonoma County cancelled classes. And the University of California, Berkeley, called off classes because of the power outages there.

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