Amid progress, Calif. wild­fire still grave threat to prop­erty

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By John Antczak

LOS AN­GE­LES — Au­thor­i­ties lifted evac­u­a­tion or­ders for a farm com­mu­nity Satur­day as fire­fight­ers make progress on a large wild­fire north­west of Los An­ge­les that con­tin­ues to threaten about 2,500 homes and build­ings.

Ven­tura County of­fi­cials al­lowed an un­known num­ber of res­i­dents in Somis to re­turn home Satur­day morn­ing af­ter fire­fight­ers con­tained 20% of the Maria Fire, which has burned nearly 15 square miles and forced nearly 11,000 peo­ple to evac­u­ate.

While fire ac­tiv­ity sub­sided overnight, winds and skin-crack­ing low hu­mid­ity were ex­pected to en­ter their fourth day Satur­day and make an­other dif­fi­cult day for fire­fight­ers.

More­over, an un­ex­pected area of clouds moved in from the south, threat­en­ing to bring light­ning strikes and wind gusts of 20 to 30 mph over the re­gion, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said.

Po­lice in Santa Mon­ica urged beach­go­ers to seek shel­ter in­doors af­ter light­ning was re­ported over the city.

Crews bat­tled to keep the flames away from or­chards and farms in the ru­ral area. Three build­ings were de­stroyed.

The fire erupted on a hill­top north­west of Los An­ge­les on Thurs­day dur­ing what had been ex­pected to be the tail end of gusty Santa Ana winds.

The cause was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion but there was a trou­bling pos­si­bil­ity that an elec­tri­cal line might have been in­volved — as such lines have been at other re­cent fires.

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son said Fri­day that it reen­er­gized a 16,000-volt power line 13 min­utes be­fore the fire erupted in the same area.

Edi­son and other util­i­ties up and down the state shut off power to hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple last week out of con­cerns that high winds could cause power lines to spark and start fires.

SCE will co­op­er­ate with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, the util­ity said.

In North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, more peo­ple were al­lowed to re­turn to ar­eas evac­u­ated due to the huge Kin­cade Fire burn­ing for days in the Sonoma County wine coun­try.

The 121-square-mile fire was 72% con­tained, the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion said.

The tally of de­stroyed homes reached 175 and there were 35 more dam­aged, Cal Fire said. Many other struc­tures also burned.

His­toric, dry winds prompted the state’s largest util­ity, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Co., to ini­ti­ate four rounds of wide­spread pre­emp­tive shut-offs in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia this month to pre­vent wild­fires.

But the Con­tra Costa County Fire Pro­tec­tion District pegged the util­ity’s equip­ment as the cause of three smaller fires that cropped up Oct. 27 in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area sub­urbs of Martinez and Lafayette.

And while the cause of the Kin­cade Fire hasn’t been de­ter­mined, PG&E re­ported a prob­lem with a trans­mis­sion tower near the spot where the fire started.

APU GOMES/GETTY-AFP

Fire­fight­ers bat­tle to con­trol hotspots of the Maria Fire on Satur­day in Santa Paula, Ven­tura County, 65 miles north­west of Los An­ge­les. The fire is about 20% con­tained.

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