California blazes mostly contained as flame-fanning winds die down


(Reuters) – Winds that had fanned California’s wildfires were calmer on Monday, helping firefighters contain blazes that have destroyed homes, prompted large-scale evacuation orders and forced mass power outages since late last month.

A house burns during wildfires in San Bernardino, California, U.S. October 31, 2019 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. 564FIRE via REUTERS

“We’ve really seen the end of it,” said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“The winds have calmed down and this is nothing but good news,” he said. “It remains extremely dry to so more (fire) spreading is possible, but there are no elevated fire concerns.”

The state’s largest fire, dubbed the Kincade fire in Sonoma County’s tourist-popular wine country, was 80% contained on Monday, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

It burned nearly 80,000 acres (32,375 hectares) and destroying more than 370 structures since it started on Oct. 23, according to Cal Fire.

On Sunday, authorities lifted the last of several mandatory evacuation orders that had affected some 180,000 residents at the height of the Kincade fire last week, a Cal Fire spokeswoman said.

The fires sparked a war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and California Governor Gavin Newsom when Trump threatened, as he has before, to cut off federal aid.

“Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help,” Trump said of Newsom. “No more.”

Newsom shot back on Twitter: “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”

The Maria Fire, which broke out on Thursday near the community of Santa Paula about 70 miles (110 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, had destroyed two structures and burned more than 9,400 acres (3,800 hectares), the Ventura County Fire Department said.

Evacuation orders in Ventura County were lifted on Saturday, when the fire department said the blaze was 20% contained. More than 10,000 residents had previously been told to evacuate at the peak of the fire’s rapid spread.

Southern California Edison has told state authorities that 13 minutes before the fire started, it began to re-energize a circuit near where flames first erupted, said a spokesman for the utility, Ron Gales.

Southern California Edison had shut off power in the area because of concerns that an electrical mishap could spark a wildfire. The utility and fire officials have said the cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

Reporting by Rich McKay, additional reporting by by Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely; Editing by William Maclean and Cynthia Osterman

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