180,000 evacuated as wildfire and electricity blackout hits California wine country

180,000 evacuated as wildfire and electricity blackout hits California wine countryA total of 180,000 people have been ordered to evacuate from a huge swath of northern California's wine country as the state was hit by a destructive wildfire and the biggest electricity black out in its history. The Kinkade fire covered an area of 40 square miles and predictions of high gusts, known as the "diablo winds," fueled fears it could spread further. Some 77 buildings, including 31 homes, had already burned to the ground, and the fire was only 10 per cent contained. The blaze encroached on wineries in Sonoma County, a region full of internationally renowned vintners. Thousands of firefighters were battling the fire and a state of emergency has been declared. Dominic Foppoli,mayor of the town of Windsor, said: "This is a life-threatening situation and a danger to our entire town." Pacific Gas & Electric, the energy company, decided to shut down power as a precaution to 2.35 million people. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California gov, called the black out "infuriating and unacceptable." He said: "We are going to do our best to get through these high wind events and get these lights back on, and do everything in our power to make sure PG&E; is never in a position where they're doing this to us again." The Democrat governor has blamed the bankrupt utility for lackluster investment in its infrastructure. A winery on fire in Healdsburg, California Credit: AFP According to the US National Weather Service the area was facing an "historic wind event" which could lead to "erratic fire behaviour" and send embers for miles. Warnings were issued that the gusts could knock down power lines and spark more devastating wildfires. A total of the 24 lives lost when a wildfire swept through the region two years ago. Sheriff Mark Essick, in Sonoma County, pleaded with residents in the evacuation zone to leave immediately. He said: "I'm seeing people reporting that they're going to stay and fight this fire. You cannot fight this. Please evacuate." Prisoners and hospital patients were among those evacuating. Jon Robinson, 52, a resident, said: "Before this, we planned on staying. But I'll tell you what, it's just too nerve-racking." Scott Paris, a cafe owner, said the electricity shutdown would lose him tens of thousands of dollars in business. He said: "We're scrambling to get enough generators. If this is the new normal, it's going to drive up a lot of costs. It drives up stress." Florida was sending 100 electric workers to help PG&E; restore power to areas with outages caused by the wildfires. What sparked the current fire is unknown, but PG&E; said a 230,000-volt transmission line malfunctioned minutes before the blaze erupted, amid bode-dry conditions, on Wednesday. Flames engulf a building in Sonoma County Credit: Bloomberg Its chief executive Andrew Vesey said: "Any spark, from any source, can lead to catastrophic results." Last year, 85 people died in the fire that destroyed the California town of Paradise, the deadliest US blaze in a century. Officials concluded that a PG&E; transmission line sparked that fire. The Kinkade fire was burning along steep hillsides in rugged terrain north of San Francisco. A separate fire, the Tick Fire, has been raging in suburban Los Angeles. Nearly all the 50,000 residents ordered to evacuate were allowed back home after winds began to ease. Marcos Briano, 71, a resident who found destroyed homes on his street, said: "I'm thankful that nothing happened to my house, but I feel bad for my neighbours."



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