Fires spark as winds pick up
PG& E cuts power to more than 360,000 homes, businesses as danger escalates
An onslaught of heavy winds blasting across bonedry land led Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to shut off power in parts of the Bay Area and dozens of other counties Sunday to reduce wildfire risk, as blazes erupted in Shasta County and were largely contained by evening.
Amid warnings of winds racing along at freeway speeds, authorities urged Bay Area residents in highrisk fire zones — including the hills of Berkeley, El Cerrito, Kensington, East Richmond Heights and El Sobrante — to consider relocating ahead of the strengthening winds.
Cal Fire extended a red flag warning through 5 p. m. Tuesday for East and North Bay mountain areas. A red flag warning for coastal and valley areas and the Santa Cruz Mountains was in effect through 11 a. m. Monday.
The Bay Area’s most dangerous winds of the year
whipped up Sunday evening and were expected to continue into Monday morning, with gusts reaching 50 mph at lower elevations, the National Weather Service said.
On Sunday evening, a weather station on Mount St. Helena recorded wind gusts of up to 80 mph. On Mount Diablo, wind gusts reached 62 mph, as the weather system moved into the Bay Area from the northeast.
Cal Fire officials worried that “hurricane-type winds” could spread a dozen major wildfires that are still not fully contained, part of California’s worst wildfire season on record with more than 4.1 million acres burned across the state this year.
At least three new fires — the Point Fire, Dersch Fire and Olinda Fire — ignited and quickly scorched more than 340 acres, mainly in Shasta County, already hard hit this season by the deadly Zogg Fire. The Point Fire, the largest of the blazes at 275 acres, was 80% contained by Sunday evening; it also reached into Tehama County to the south, about halfway between Redding and Red Bluff.
The Dersch Fire, at 133 acres, was 75% contained by Sunday night, as was the much smaller Olinda Fire, at 5 acres, according to Cal Fire. Crews also contained about five other smaller fires that erupted Sunday and were fed by 40 mph winds, said J. T. Zullinger, a spokesman with Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity unit. No causes have yet been determined.
PG& E anticipated that its blackouts would affect more than 360,000 customers across 36 counties and 17 tribal communities, including about 92,000 people in every Bay Area county except San Francisco. By Sunday at 9 p. m., blackouts had hit Napa, Sono
ma, Solano, Contra Costa, Marin and Alameda counties, with shutoffs expected to reach San Mateo and Santa Clara counties shortly thereafter.
The Bay Area cities with the most shutoffs were expected to be Oakland ( 10,885 homes and businesses); Orinda ( 7,641); Moraga ( 5,465); Lafayette ( 3,285); Fairfax ( 2,960); Mill Valley ( 2,325); Calistoga ( 2,277) and Santa Rosa ( 1,957).
Numerous parks around the Bay Area were closed because of the shutoffs and fire risk — including Muir Woods, which the National Park Service said would be closed Monday.
PG& E has scaled back its shutoff plans since Friday night, sparing more than 100,000 homes and businesses originally slated for fireprevention blackouts, with the biggest proportional reductions in blackouts going to San Ramon, Dublin, Santa Rosa and Saint Helena.
The Berkeley Unified School District, expecting many teachers to lose power at home, encouraged them to broadcast lessons from school buildings — except from John Muir Elementary, which was on the list to be blacked out. The district, which serves 9,800 students at 15 schools, alerted families Sunday about the shutoffs.
The preemptive shutoffs, ordered for the fifth time this year, began at 10 a. m. near Redding and Mount Shasta, affecting around 26,500 customers in Shasta, Tehama, Glenn, Colusa and Lake counties.
Most parts of the Bay Area should see a return to safer weather by midday Monday, though some spots might not calm down enough until Tuesday morning, according to PG& E officials. The company expected to start restoring power Monday evening.
The Point Fire, which started 16 miles south of Redding in Cottonwood ( Shasta County), menaced the rural town of 3,300 people throughout much of the day, but Cal Fire soon gained the upper hand.
Cottonwood residents stockpiled bottled water and nonperishable foods from the Holiday Market hours after the fire broke out on the town’s southern edge. Many of them lost power Sunday morning, including supermarket manager Eddie DeAngelo.
“We’re fighting two things at the same time here,” DeAngelo said of the blackouts and the blaze just miles from his store.
The market had no generator, and DeAngelo said he hoped power would remain on as shoppers blitzed the store for necessities. ( It did, according to the PG& E outages map.)
On Sunday evening, Cal Fire report that it had fully contained the Pope Fire, which started Friday in Napa County and scorched 61 acres around Lower Chiles Valley and Chiles Pope Valley roads.
An air tanker drops retardant on the Olinda Fire burning in Anderson ( Shasta County).
An AC Transit bus heads down a darkened Mountain Boulevard in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood during Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’ s power shutoff as heavy winds hit the Bay Area.
Mountain Mike’s Pizza employee Harry Virk sits on his car on LaSalle Avenue in Oakland moments after the shutoff started.