Crews battle fast-moving brush fire just outside L.A. hours after blaze tears through mobile home park

Crews battle fast-moving brush fire just outside L.A. hours after blaze tears through mobile home park

LOS ANGELES — A wind-whipped and fast-growing brush fire broke out in a Los Angeles community Thursday night, hours after a fire in neighboring Riverside County tore through a mobile home park in Calimesa.

In Calimes, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, 74 structures were destroyed and 16 others were damaged, officials said.

The fire in Los Angeles started in Sylmar, which is in the San Fernando Valley north of downtown Los Angeles, Thursday night and prompted mandatory evacuations. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said that the so-called Saddleridge Brush Fire, which started in Sylmar grew, from 60 acres to 1,600 acres within hours. Mandatory evacuations were ordered in parts of Sylmar, which is in the San Fernando Valley north of downtown Los Angeles. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Nearly 300 children living at a juvenile hall were evacuated, NBC Los Angeles reported. Video from the scene showed residents getting livestock and horses out of the area.

Firefighters arrive to help fight a wind-driven wildfire in Sylmar, CA, Oct. 10, 2019.Gene Blevins / Reuters

The wildfire was zero percent contained early Friday and had destroyed at least one commercial building. Aerial video broadcast on television showed a home burning. It closed the 210 freeway was closed in both directions and a truck route on the 5 freeway, the California Highway Patrol said.

Thursday’s fires came as so-called Santa Ana winds, which blow down from mountains in the northern part of the state into the south, began gusting strongly Thursday afternoon. Maximum winds of 46 mph were recorded in Sylmar on Thursday night, the National Weather Service said.

Power companies on Thursday began expanding fire-prevention blackouts to the southern part of the state, but neither of the blazes were said to have been caused by power lines. The fire in Calimesa was caused by a trash truck that dumped a load of burning trash that spread into vegetation, officials said.

The so-called Sandalwood Fire in Calimesa broke out around 2 p.m. and burned 500 acres and was 10 percent contained as of 8 p.m. Thursday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

In Ventura County, the so-called Wendy Fire burned 90 acres near Newbury Park but was moving away from homes, and there were no injuries and no structures lost, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. It was 25 percent contained.

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Power utilities had already instituted rolling power blackouts for about 2 million people in Northern California to prevent faulty power lines from sparking wildfires amid strong winds and low humidity.

Forecasters had predicted strong winds in the north would create Santa Ana conditions in the south on Wednesday and Thursday. Southern California Edison said Thursday night that it had begun shutting off power to about 45,000 people across its service area.

Freeway traffic comes to a standstill as a wind-driven wildfire burns in Sylmar, CA, Oct. 10, 2019.Gene Blevins / Reuters

SCE said that it hadn’t cut off power to Calimesa but that parts of the community were in an area where such blackouts might be necessary this week.

In Northern California, Pacific Gas & Electric said Thursday night that power had been restored to more than half of the 738,000 customers impacted by the “public safety power shutoff.”

An account can be a single-family home or a large business, and generally represents about 2½ people. Under that estimation, the 312,000 customers PG&E said remained without power represents around 780,000 people.

PG&E has said it could be several days before all power is restored because all 24,700 miles of distribution lines and 2,443 miles of transmission line must be visually inspected before it can turn the power back on — a process that can’t get widely underway until the threatening fire conditions have passed.

Many Californians, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have harshly criticized PG&E for the blackouts.

“They’re in bankruptcy because of their terrible management going back decades,” Newsom said Wednesday. “They created these conditions.”

PG&E’s energy unit declared the largest utility bankruptcy in U.S. history in January as it faced massive liabilities from its role in several highly destructive fires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres of Northern California in 2017 and 2018. One of them, the Camp Fire, killed 86 people in Butte County.

The governor doubled down on Thursday, calling the blackouts “unacceptable” at a news conference at the state emergency operations center in Mather.

“If they had de-energized this time last year and a year ago, a lot of people would be alive,” he said. “A lot of people’s lives were lost because they did not do the right thing.”

PG&E told NBC News this week that because the blackouts are a planned safety measure, customers wouldn’t be reimbursed for lost business, housing alternatives or spoiled food and medicines. Newsom said that he thought customers should be compensated and that he was in discussions with the company.

At PG&E’s daily update on Thursday evening, Chief Executive William Johnson declined to comment on Newsom’s remark, but he apologized for what he called the company’s failure to keep its customers in the loop.

Acknowledging that PG&E’s website had crashed for more than a day, that its phone lines were frequently jammed and that some blackout maps might have been inaccurate, Johnson said, “To put it simply, we were not adequately prepared to support the situational event.”

At the same time, he warned that because the goal was “zero spark,” similar blackouts are likely in the future under similar weather conditions. When they do, he said, “we’ve got to get more surgical.”

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