Here's what you need to know about 2 wildfires raging in California

High winds are fuelling wildfires across California, and frustration is growing among hundreds of thousands of residents amid planned blackouts aimed at preventing more blazes.

Firefighters and power utilities across the state are working in tandem to get the fires under control, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency as dozens of houses and businesses have been destroyed and thousands of residents have been pushed from their homes.

The hot, dry and windy conditions have turned California into “a tinderbox,” Jonathan Cox, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said Monday. 

The current wildfire season follows the worst on record for the state. A report by the National Interagency Coordination Center said more than 1.8 million acres burned in 2018, compared to the 1.3 million in 2017. More than 100 people were killed and 17,000 homes were destroyed last year.

Here’s a look at the two major fires currently burning in the state.

Kincade Fire – Sonoma County

Where is the fire?

This fire is in the heart of Northern California’s wine country. The Kincade Fire, which started last week, grew overnight and now covers some 305 square kilometres, officials said Tuesday morning. The blaze is only about 15 per cent contained, according to Cal Fire. 

How much damage has been done?

The blaze has destroyed 124 buildings, including 57 homes, and threatens some 90,000 structures. About 156,000 people remain under evacuation orders after about 30,000 were allowed to return home on Monday.

How does this fire compare to recent ones in the area?

The Kincade fire is burning nearly a year after another wildfire tore through the Sierra Nevada foothills and into the town of Paradise, killing 85 people. An investigation found that blaze, which also destroyed 15,000 homes and injured several firefighters, was caused by a spark from a 100-year-old electricity tower owned by the state’s largest utility — Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.

The size of the Kincade Fire, however, pales in comparison to the worst fire in the state’s history — 2018’s Mendocino Complex Fire — which took more than two months to contain and scorched more than 1,850 square kilometres.

A Healdsburg, Calif., home is covered in fire retardant as the Kincade Fire burns in Sonoma County on Tuesday. (Guy Wathen/San Francisco Chronicle/The Associated Press)

Do power lines factor in?

On Tuesday, PG&E announced another round of planned blackouts to prevent electrical equipment, that’s being bombarded by heavy winds, from sparking more fires in the area.

PG&E said in a news release Tuesday evening that its latest blackouts will affect nearly 600,000 people in 29 counties, including the Sierra Nevada foothills and parts of Marin County, a wealthy suburb north of San Francisco. Another 400,000 residents remained without power in the area Tuesday evening after a weekend outage that at its peak affected 2.7 million people.

The latest outage could last five days or longer, officials said Tuesday, which sparked criticism from residents. The utility, also blamed for a number of wildfires that swept through northern California in 2017, filed for bankruptcy in January over potential civil liabilities upwards of $30 billion US.

Getty Fire – Los Angeles

Where is the fire?

The blaze, dubbed the Getty Fire for its proximity to the Getty Center, started early Monday and spread quickly along the Santa Monica Mountains. The fire grew slightly overnight and now covers about 658 acres, Mayor Eric Garcetti said early Tuesday. The blaze is only about five per cent contained, he said.

How much damage has been done?

The blaze has destroyed at least 12 homes and damaged about five others, fire officials said Tuesday. The Getty Centre, with its collection of priceless art, was built with fire protection features and so is not threatened, officials have said.

A wildfire-ravaged home burns as crews continued to battle the Getty Fire in Los Angeles on Monday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

Thousands of homes are covered by an evacuation order, including those of high-profile area residents such as basketball star LeBron James.

Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas expressed concern that the fire could be whipped up by Santa Ana winds that are forecast to hit gusts of 112 km/h late Tuesday night.

How does this fire compare to recent ones in the area?

The fire follows less than a year after the Woolsey Fire burned more than 96,900 acres of land in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, destroyed more than 1,600 structures and killed three people. The blaze, which was driven south by the Santa Ana winds, threatened multi-million-dollar homes along the Malibu coast and drove nearly 300,000 people from their homes.

Do power lines factor in?

The Getty blaze appears to have started when high winds toppled a tree branch onto power lines, Los Angeles fire officials said Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, power utility Southern California Edison cut off power to 800 people Monday night and warned it may expand that outage to include 400,000 more when higher winds are forecast to return mid-week.

A helicopter drops water as the Getty fire burns on Kenter Canyon in Los Angeles, on Monday. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/The Associated Press)

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