At the same time, conditions in Southern California, where the Getty Fire scorched the western edge of Los Angeles on Monday, are expected to be even more dangerous: The Storm Prediction Center warned of “extremely critical fire weather” beginning late Tuesday, when powerful Santa Ana winds are expected to whip across the region. A “long duration of low humidity and dry vegetation will make this a very critical event!” NWS Los Angeles said.
The dire weather warnings came just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a statewide emergency over wildfires — and amid an unprecedented wave of blackouts ordered by Pacific Gas & Electric, which has shut power to millions of customers in an effort to curb fire risk. Newsom has called the shut-offs “unacceptable.”
Monday was a relatively quiet night on the front lines of the Kincade Fire. Cal Fire said Tuesday that the blaze barely grew overnight, though at 75,415 acres — an area more than twice the size of San Francisco — it is already California’s biggest fire of the year. The fire is now 15 percent contained, and officials said they expected it to burn until at least Nov. 7.
Firefighters got a brief reprieve Monday when gusts died down, but they struggled to keep pace with the expanding blaze as winds changed direction, officials said. Even as officials lifted mandatory evacuation orders for parts of the county along the Pacific coast, they issued new evacuation warnings for a part of Lake County as the flames threatened to lurch eastward.
At least 124 structures have been destroyed in the fire, but no injuries of civilians have been reported — and there have been no deaths attributed to the blaze, which is burning in the same region where 22 people were killed in the Tubbs Fire in 2017. Officials said two firefighters had been injured, and one who was burned was in stable condition.
Evacuations have largely gone smoothly as the nation’s most populous state adapts to increasing wildfires that many officials link to climate change. Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said Tuesday at a news conference that Northern California residents will have to be patient as they await the chance to return home.
“We’re going to have to kind of wait and see how the winds behave, how the fire behaves, before we can talk about repopulation,” he said.
Emergency responders on the other end of the state are trying to beat back a fast-moving brush fire that has consumed about 656 acres on the western edge of Los Angeles — a slight growth since Monday — and forced the evacuation of more than 7,000 homes. Fire officials said Tuesday that the Getty Fire was 5 percent contained. At least eight homes have been destroyed in the blaze, and six others have been damaged, officials said.
The International Association of Fire Fighters has more than 4,500 firefighters battling blazes across California, spokesman Timothy Burn said Tuesday. About 419 of those firefighters live in zones that have been evacuated.
The Getty and Kincade fires have been sparked by hurricane-like winds that for three years have caused fiery infernos to break out across the Golden State, which is coming to accept the blazes as the new normal. The gusts are known as Diablo winds in the San Francisco Bay area and Santa Ana winds in Southern California.
Red flag warnings are up for the San Francisco Bay area and much of north-central California. The most volatile conditions in the vicinity of the Kincade Fire are forecast to occur from Tuesday through Wednesday afternoon, when winds in higher elevations may reach 65 mph.
Offshore winds are also anticipated for lower elevations, which will lead to extremely dry air that is conducive for rapidly spreading wildfires. The ongoing offshore wind event, which is powered by the difference in air pressure between the Great Basin region and coastal California, is not anticipated to bring winds as high as the event over the weekend when the blaze began.
Northern California faced a blast of wind Wednesday and Thursday, and again over the weekend, when it was whipped with hurricane-force gusts. The coming surge this week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, is expected to be the third windstorm in quick succession.
The repeated high wind events are resulting in dry vegetation that will burn easily if any new fires ignite. In fact, forecasters in San Francisco said they have never before seen three red flag warning events in a seven-day period.
“I’ve been in this business for 28 years; I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Steve Anderson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s forecast office serving the San Francisco Bay area.
Residents of Southern California, particularly from Los Angeles and Ventura counties south to San Diego, are gearing up for what could be a record-setting Santa Ana wind event beginning around midnight Tuesday night and continuing through Thursday. A red flag warning has been hoisted for the metro L.A. area, where winds could gust as high as 80 mph in higher elevations and canyons and reach 70 mph in valley locations.
In an ominous sign, the National Weather Service said early Tuesday that the upcoming event promises to be a “high end dangerous event.” One indicator of this is that the air pressure gradient, which controls how strong the winds will be, is forecast to be at record-high levels for late October and early November. In general, the greater the pressure gradient, the stronger the winds, since air flows from high to low pressure.
Given that there have been many Santa Ana wind events during this period, a record-setting event would be particularly dangerous and could cause significant damage of in the form of downed trees and power lines and minor structural damage, according to the NWS. Any fires that occur during this period could be nearly impossible to control.
Kim Bellware, Kayla Epstein, Derek Hawkins, Hannah Knowles and Jason Samenow contributed to this report.