October 31, 2019 / 12:57 PM / 17 days ago

Desert winds fuel twin wildfires around Los Angeles

SIMI VALLEY, Calif., Oct 31 (Reuters) - Firefighters in Southern California braced for another day of gusting desert winds on Thursday as they confronted twin wildfires that have displaced thousands of residents in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The region’s Santa Ana winds have been so extraordinarily dry, powerful and prolonged that the National Weather Service was moved to create a new alert level, issuing an “extreme red flag warning” through Thursday evening in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The Getty Fire broke out near the Getty Center art museum in Los Angeles on Monday morning, burning chaparral up and down the mountain slopes around a major highway.

Officials ordered the evacuation of more than 10,000 homes in some of the city’s richest neighborhoods, although they began allowing some people to return on Wednesday as about 40% of the 745-acre fire was brought under control.

The Easy Fire ignited early on Wednesday, sending flames racing up to the walls of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library atop a mountain in Ventura County’s Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles. Some 30,000 residents were ordered to evacuate, along with an unknown number of horses in an area known for its ranches.

Officials at the Getty Center and the Reagan Library were confident both complexes would survive unscathed, thanks to various fire-prevention systems. These include, in the Reagan Library’s case, an annual visitation by a herd of goats that eats away the surrounding flammable scrub. On Wednesday, helicopters doused the area around the library with water.

No injuries have been reported in the fires, although at least a dozen homes in Los Angeles have burned down.

The Santa Ana winds arrive in the autumn, sending hot, dry air down from the mountains out to the Southern California coast. Gusts of 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) were recorded in mountainous areas around Los Angeles, and more powerful winds were forecast for Thursday morning.

Tens of thousands of people in the region were without power after a precautionary shutdown by the Pacific Gas & Electric Co .

Investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch that was blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning. It spread, consuming 745 acres (300 hectares) by Wednesday morning, with about a quarter contained by firefighters. At least 12 homes have been destroyed.

In northern California, firefighters struggled for a sixth day against the 76,000-acre (30,760-hectare) Kincade fire in Sonoma County’s wine country. That blaze has destroyed at least 189 homes and other structures but was listed as 30% contained on Wednesday.

PG&E acknowledged last week that the Kincade fire started near a damaged transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.

The company filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

As many as 190,000 people were displaced at the height of the Kincade fire, but some evacuations have since been lifted. (Reporting by Omar Younis in Simi Valley, California, writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

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