Published On: Fri, Oct 25th, 2019

California wildfires: Residents forced to fleCalie as wildfires sweep through wine country | World | News

Around 200,000 homes and businesses across Sonoma County are without power and engineers are working around the clock to restore it. Fire crews have been fighting the blaze at close range with hand tools and bulldozers, assisted by water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying fire-retardant slurry.

The Sonoma County sheriff’s office ordered the evacuation of Geyserville, a town of nearly 900 people and served mandatory evacuation notices on around 2,000 people in the wider area. Several houses in the town were ablaze.

Evacuation warnings have been issued in nearby Healdsburg where residents have been told to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

Both towns, about 75 miles north of San Francisco, are know for their upscale restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, inns and shops surrounded by hills dotted with vineyards.

Fire chiefs said the 50mph winds that had driven the wildfires through the region are expected to ease today, giving crews a small window of time to try to bring the blaze under control.

But forecasters warned the respite might turn out to be short-lived.

Marc Chenard of the Weather Prediction Centre in Maryland said: “This isn’t over. Yes, it’s improving, most of the warnings there have been lifted for now.

“But we have another event coming in for Saturday and at least through Sunday.”

Large parts of California were under red-flag alerts this week due to forecasts of hot, dry winds blowing into populated areas from deserts to the east.

The Sonoma County fire appears to have started near the base of a damaged high-voltage transmission tower owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co, utility and fire officials said.

The company, a unit of bankrupt holding company PG&E Corp, acknowledged in an “electric safety incident” report filed with the California Public Utilities Commission that one of its power lines malfunctioned at about the time and location of the fire’s origin.

The report said a PG&E technician inspecting the site found the area taped off by state fire department personnel who brought to his attention “what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower”.

Wind-damaged utility equipment was found to have triggered a number of major California wildfires in recent years, including spate of blazes that swept Sonoma and adjacent counties north of San Francisco in 2017, as well as last year’s catastrophic Camp Fire, which killed 85 people in and around the town of Paradise.

Billions of dollars in civil liabilities incurred by PG&E from those disasters prompted the utility to file for bankruptcy earlier this year.

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