SANTA ROSA, California (AP) — California’s governor declared a statewide emergency Sunday after officials ordered nearly 200,000 people to leave their homes as hurricane-force winds drove multiple wildfires through bone-dry vegetation. Meanwhile, the state’s largest utility cut electricity to millions of residents as a precaution to prevent more areas from igniting.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement that officials were deploying “every resource available” to respond to the wildfires, including a large blaze in Northern California’s wine country powered by gusts that topped more than 80 mph (149 kph).
Elsewhere, two grass fires burning in the San Francisco Bay Area briefly halted traffic on a bridge. The flames came dangerously close to homes in Vallejo. Another grass fire closed a stretch of interstate that cut through the state capital as smoke obstructed drivers along the busy stretch.
In the south, a wildfire in the Santa Clarita area near Los Angeles destroyed 18 structures.
The biggest evacuation was in Northern California’s Sonoma County where 180,000 people were told to pack up and leave.
Meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to 2.3 million people across 36 counties starting Saturday evening. Electricity is expected to be restored by Monday.The fear that the winds could blow embers and spread fire across a major highway prompted authorities to expand evacuation orders that covered parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was devastated by a wildfire two years ago.
Hurricane-force winds created blowtorch-like conditions overnight in Northern California as theto rage Sunday. As of 8 a.m. PT, the fire had burned 30,000 acres and was only 10% contained.
Approximately 180,000 people are under evacuation orders, the Sonoma County Sherifftweeted. “This is the largest evacuation that any of us at the Sheriff’s Office can remember. Take care of each other,” the Sheriff’s office tweeted.
Two brush fires erupted along Interstate 80 near Crockett, California, on Sunday, sending billowing smoke and flames toward the freeway, forcing the California Highway Patrol to shut it down. Crockett is located less than 30 miles northeast of San Francisco.
Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom is warning citizens that they could be in for a long weekend as the state’s public utility announced Saturday plans to shut down huge sections of the electric grid.
The Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s move could black out an estimated 940,000 homes and businesses in parts of more than 30 counties up and down California. PG&E is trying to prevent potential wildfires from spreading through the state while keeping tabs on downed power lines.
Newsom, who is under pressure as gas prices increase, told Californians things are going to be tough for the next few days.
“The next 72 hours will be challenging,” the Democrat said at a news conference. “I could sugarcoat it, but I will not.”