New California Blaze Erupts as Wildfire Season Refuses to Let Go

By Christopher Martin and Brian K. Sullivan | November 1, 2019

Southern California is battling yet another wildfire, which has spurred a new round of deliberate blackouts by Edison International and mandatory evacuations.

Edison cut power supplies to 950 Ventura County homes and businesses, after restoring power to more than 87,000 customers in the last two days. The new blaze — named Maria — comes as the state is starting to recover from a wildfire season that’s disrupted the lives of millions of residents. Maria began at around 6 p.m. Thursday just north of Los Angeles and now covers about 8,000 acres, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

In the north, PG&E Corp. said late Thursday it had restored service to almost all of the 1.1 million customers that had been blacked out, and California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a Thursday briefing that the state was “turning the corner” on its month-long misery.

Still, the new outbreak shows the wildfire season — which runs through December — remains a challenge, even as fierce winds that have ravaged the state for several days have eased. No rain is forecast for at least the next week, and the U.S. Weather Service says the threat of blazes remains high.

“It is winding down out there, but there continues to be very dry conditions,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. “Unfortunately it remains very dry, so they are not getting a break as far as that goes.”

PG&E was the first of the utilities to cut off electricity. The company’s equipment had sparked wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018, saddling it with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities and eventually forcing it into bankruptcy. The utility blacked out a record 3 million residents last weekend as the high winds arrived, saying it had no other option. It carried out another shutoff on Tuesday, and utilities in the southern part of the state followed suit.

The outages have drawn anger from customers and state lawmakers who say they’ve gone too far.

“Are shutoffs a perfect solution or a cure-all for wildfire? No,” PG&E Chief Executive Officer Bill Johnson said in a media briefing late Thursday. “In fact, it’s hard to think of any one action by any one entity that can solve the wildfire risk California faces.”

Traditionally, the wildfire season doesn’t end until storms coming off the Pacific Ocean drench California’s lowlands with rains and its mountains with snow.

The Kincade fire north of San Francisco that burned more than 77,000 acres was 65% contained late Thursday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Getty and Easy blazes were also mostly extinguished by late Thursday, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

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