California police find no motive for school shooting

California police find no motive for school shooting By Steve Gorman SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Reuters) - A 16-year-old student was carrying out a deliberate plan when he shot five teenagers at his California high school then turned the gun on himself, the local sheriff said on Friday, but authorities have no clues about what sparked the bloodshed. "We did not find any manifesto, any diary that spelled it out," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a briefing. The gunman, whose identity has not been made public, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound but was in grave condition in a hospital, Villanueva said. Two of the other five students who were shot in the Thursday morning attack died of their wounds. Detectives worked through the night to follow up on tips related to the shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles. The shooting, which was caught on video, unfolded in 16 seconds, police said. Arriving at school on his 16th birthday, the suspect pulled a .45 semi-automatic pistol from his backpack in an outdoor courtyard, stood in one place and shot his victims in rapid succession before turning the gun and firing the last bullet into his head. Villanueva said authorities did not know the origin of the gun used, nor how the shooter got his hands on it. All Hart District schools in Santa Clarita were closed on Friday, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's office said on Twitter, out of respect for the victims and their families. Two girls aged 14 and 15 were being treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California and were listed in good and fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said early on Friday. At the Henry Mayo Hospital in Santa Clarita, authorities said a 14-year-old boy was treated and released. Two other students who had been taken there died. A hospital spokesman could not immediately be reached on Friday. Villanueva identified one of the students killed as Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15. He said the families of the other student killed and those wounded did not authorize him to release their names. The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at U.S. schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault rifle killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018. It was the 85th incident of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group. (Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alan Devall in Santa Clarita; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York City, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Dan Whitcomb in Culver City and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Whitcomb and additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

California police find no motive for school shooting
By Steve Gorman

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Reuters) – A 16-year-old student was carrying out a deliberate plan when he shot five teenagers at his California high school then turned the gun on himself, the local sheriff said on Friday, but authorities have no clues about what sparked the bloodshed.

“We did not find any manifesto, any diary that spelled it out,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a briefing.

The gunman, whose identity has not been made public, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound but was in grave condition in a hospital, Villanueva said. Two of the other five students who were shot in the Thursday morning attack died of their wounds.

Detectives worked through the night to follow up on tips related to the shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles. The shooting, which was caught on video, unfolded in 16 seconds, police said.

Arriving at school on his 16th birthday, the suspect pulled a .45 semi-automatic pistol from his backpack in an outdoor courtyard, stood in one place and shot his victims in rapid succession before turning the gun and firing the last bullet into his head.

Villanueva said authorities did not know the origin of the gun used, nor how the shooter got his hands on it.

All Hart District schools in Santa Clarita were closed on Friday, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s office said on Twitter, out of respect for the victims and their families.

Two girls aged 14 and 15 were being treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California and were listed in good and fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said early on Friday.

At the Henry Mayo Hospital in Santa Clarita, authorities said a 14-year-old boy was treated and released. Two other students who had been taken there died. A hospital spokesman could not immediately be reached on Friday.

Villanueva identified one of the students killed as Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15. He said the families of the other student killed and those wounded did not authorize him to release their names.

The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at U.S. schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault rifle killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.

It was the 85th incident of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alan Devall in Santa Clarita; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York City, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, Dan Whitcomb in Culver City and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Dan Whitcomb and additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay; Editing by Frances Kerry and Bill Berkrot)

Student gunman kills 1, wounds others at California high school

Student gunman kills 1, wounds others at California high school
By Alan Devall

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (Reuters) – A California high school student dressed in black is suspected of having opened fire on campus on Thursday, killing at least one person and wounding several others before he was arrested, officials said.

“Suspect is in custody and being treated at a local hospital,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said on Twitter.

In addition to a dead female, two males were in critical condition and another was in good condition, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital said on Twitter.

“We believe at this time that there is only one suspect but we are actively investigating and following all leads,” the Santa Clarita Valley branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

The suspect was described by police as an Asian male and a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Los Angeles.

A weapon was recovered at the scene, a police officer told NBC television.

The incident marked yet another school shooting in the United States, where repeated mass shootings in recent years have intensified the debate about gun control and the constitutional right for citizens to keep and bear arms.

Video from local NBC television showed a line of students marching away from the school and a row of police and fire department vehicles parked out front.

“I was really, really scared. I was shaking,” one female student told NBC television, adding that she saw one person lying on the ground covered in blood.

The student said she was doing homework when people started running, and she hid under a table until police entered the building.

The mother of student Anthony Peters told NBC he was still on lockdown inside the school but had texted that he was uninjured.

“One of the teachers said, ‘There is an active shooter. I heard the shots and saw three kids get shot,'” Peters’ mother told NBC.

Some of the wounded were being treated in a grassy area on the school’s campus, the Los Angeles Times reported. At least one injured person was found in the school’s choir room, authorities told the newspaper.

Some 2,300 students attend the school, which is made up of more than a dozen buildings.

The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other recent mass shootings at schools across the United States, including the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.

The Valentine’s Day massacre at Stoneman ignited a nationwide student-led movement, calling for school and gun safety. In August, survivors of that shooting released a sweeping gun-control plan that would ban assault-style rifles and take other steps with the aim of halving U.S. firearms deaths and injuries within a decade.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two teenagers went on a rampage, fatally shooting 12 students and a teacher and wounding more than 20 others before killing themselves.

“Speechless about the shooting in Southern California,” tweeted Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, who was one of the students who organized rallies and lobbying efforts in Florida’s capital Tallahassee and Washington following the shooting.

“Sending love and strength to the whole community,” Kasky added.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

At least five wounded after shooting at California high school: officials

At least five  people were wounded after a shooter opened fire at a high school in Santa Clarita, California, a city north of Los Angeles, officials said.

A suspect described as a male Asian in black clothing was still at large, the Santa Clarita Valley sheriff said on Twitter.

“This is still a very active situation. Reports of approximately 5 victims being treated. Parents, deputies are on scene everywhere protecting your children,” the Santa Clarita Valley branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.

Saugus High School and all schools in the William S. Hart district were placed on lockdown while authorities flooded the area.

Video from local NBC television showed a line of students walking away from the school and a row of police and fire department vehicles parked out front.

KTLA video, broadcast on CNN, showed one woman being loaded into an ambulance.

“Several injured. LASD resources on site and searching for suspect,” Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Undersheriff Tim Murakami said in a post on Twitter. “Will be locking down area schools. Advise residents to shelter in place and report any suspicious activity.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

California winds slacken, helping firefighters control blazes

California winds slacken, helping firefighters control blazes
(Reuters) – Winds that have fanned California’s wildfires have calmed, helping firefighters contain blazes that have destroyed homes and forced mass power outages since late last month.

“We’ve really seen the end of it,” said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Serices’s (NWS) 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 78% contained late on Sunday at the fire department’s last update.

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

Firefighters working overnight into Monday to contain a Southern California wildfire made significant headway, containing 70% of the blaze with the aid of cooler weather and lighter winds after it burned thousands of acres of dry brush and farmland.

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 on Sunday.

Firefighters paid close attention to the county’s avocado and citrus orchards threatened by the flames, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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.

Some smaller fires have broken out, including the so-called Ranch fire in Tehama County, which has burned about 470 acres of brush and chaparral, with some evacuations advised late Sunday but none ordered, officials said. No structures were reported damaged.

(Reporting by Rich McKay, additional reporting by by Gabriella Borter; Editing by William Maclean)

Living on the edge in the homeless encampments of Los Angeles

Living on the edge in the homeless encampments of Los Angeles
By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – After years on the street, Kimberly Decoursey spends her nights at a Los Angeles temporary housing site called the Hollywood Studio Club. But by day, she can still be found at a highway off-ramp with her homeless fiance and a less rule-bound street community.

Decoursey, 37, who grew up in foster homes, considers the friends who have shared her struggles on the streets of Los Angeles to be her family. She wants them to enjoy what she has now: a bed, regular meals and a shower.

“A lot of them would give their right arm to be inside,” Decoursey said of her comrades inhabiting grimy tents pitched on dirt patches in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

Yet only a fraction of the estimated 36,000 homeless in Los Angeles have been housed three years after voters in November 2016 approved a ballot measure that raised $1.2 billion to build housing for street denizens and poor people.

The sheer cost of building permanent homes with social services in one of the priciest real estate markets in the United States is one of the biggest obstacles. There is also opposition from homeowner groups to building such homes in their neighborhoods.

Some homeless people have their own apprehensions about living among strangers and having to follow rules in shelters.

The first project funded by the ballot measure to provide permanent homes with on-site social services is scheduled to open only by the end of the year, officials said.

The problem is growing. Homelessness spiked by 16 percent in January 2019 compared with the previous year, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said.

The homeless have set up tents on sidewalks and in neglected corners of nearly every section of the nation’s second-largest city, from wealthy Bel-Air to working-class San Pedro.

Republican President Donald Trump on a visit to California in September said people living on the streets have ruined the “prestige” of Los Angeles and San Francisco and suggested the possibility of federal intervention. That same month, the Democratic-run Los Angeles government petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to ask for legal power to forcibly sweep homeless encampments off the streets.

SOFT COSTS

It costs $531,000 per unit to build permanent homes for the homeless under Proposition HHH, the $1.2 billion bond measure approved by voters three years ago, the Los Angeles Controller’s Office said in a report released in October.

High real estate prices – the median value of a home in greater Los Angeles is currently around $650,000 – were only partly to blame, Controller Ron Galperin said in a telephone interview. The biggest financial drains were “soft costs” such as architectural design fees, permitting and inspections.

“These days, to get almost anything built in Los Angeles you need a small army of lawyers and lobbyists,” Galperin said.

The city’s plan to put homeless centers across the metropolitan area sparked a backlash from some residents concerned it could depress real estate values. In the wealthy, beachside neighborhood of Venice, where the median home price approaches $2 million, some residents have gone to court to oppose a homeless center.

On-site facilities to assist the homeless – medical clinics and office space for case managers and social workers – are another cost-driver, city officials say. Those services average $7,000 per unit per year, to be borne by Los Angeles County government.

People coming off the streets have a lot of needs, homeless advocates say.

Like Decoursey, 15 percent of homeless adults were once in foster care, according to the Homeless Services Authority.

A report released this month by the California Policy Lab in Los Angeles, which crunched survey data from 64,000 single adult homeless people across the country, found half of them reported suffering from some combination of physical, mental and substance abuse conditions.

In Los Angeles County, the mortality rate among homeless people has increased for the last five years, with more than 1,000 dying in 2018 from such causes as heart disease and overdosing on drugs, according to the county Department of Public Health.

While shelters have traditionally forbidden drug and alcohol use, officials have begun dropping sobriety requirements for supportive housing, under a model called “housing first” that has been used in Canada and other parts of the United States.

Los Angeles had already built some permanent housing units with support services even before the infusion of $1.2 billion from Proposition HHH. They fill up quickly and generate long waiting lists, city officials said.

NO PETS ALLOWED

Kenny Miles Bard, 61, who was living in his sedan parked on a hilly street in Hollywood, said he did not like the rules or his companions at a shelter he once tried.

“Out here you’re more in control of your own destiny, so to speak, and if there are people you don’t want to be around, you don’t have to be around them,” he said. “You go somewhere else.”

Such reluctance to stay at a shelter is shared by a portion of the homeless population, said Benjamin Henwood, an associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California.

“If the choice is to go into a shelter, they might say ‘no thank you’ because a shelter can be a place where you can get robbed or assaulted or woken up at certain times or have to go to bed at certain times,” he said. “If you actually offer them a private space of their own, the majority of people will take you up on that offer.”

One in seven homeless people in Los Angeles, however, has a pet and may be reluctant to part with it, Henwood said.

One non-profit in Los Angeles, People Assisting the Homeless, is making the shelters it operates more welcoming by allowing pets for emotional support and stepping up security so residents’ possessions are not stolen, said its associate director, Jesus Torres.

At the Hollywood tent encampment, Decoursey, who said she previously battled a cocaine addiction and has been homeless on and off for much of her adult life, mentioned a “street dad” and other transients she considers brothers, sisters, nephews and cousins.

“The circumstances out here are dangerous,” Decoursey said as she scanned her longtime encampment. “The sooner we all can be housed, the better.”

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Dan Grebler)

As winds surge, new wildfire ignites near Reagan Library outside Los Angeles

As winds surge, new wildfire ignites near Reagan Library outside Los Angeles
By Steve Gorman and Jonathan Allen

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A fresh wildfire ignited near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library outside Los Angeles on Wednesday as extraordinarily dry, prolonged Santa Ana winds whipped through the region, forcing meteorologists to grasp for new language to warn of the danger.

The fire broke out in Ventura County’s Simi Valley, just a few miles away from a growing blaze that has been consuming the shrub-covered hills near the Getty Center museum in Los Angeles for two days, displacing thousands of residents from some of the area’s priciest neighborhoods.

For firefighters, the weather forecast could not be worse: The National Weather Service issued an unprecedented “extreme red flag” warning for wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties ahead of two days of intense dry wind gusts.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen us use this warning,” said forecaster Marc Chenard. “It’s pretty bad.”

Statewide, the weather service issued warnings of dangerous fire weather conditions covering more than 34,000 square miles (88,000 square km), encompassing some 21 million people. Scientists have linked an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires to climate change.

The Easy Fire in Simi Valley ignited just before dawn and quickly grew to 972 acres (393 hectares) as it was fanned westward by Santa Ana winds, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. A long wall of orange flames and thick, gray smoke could be seen just down the slope from the hilltop Reagan Library, which houses many of the former president’s records and the plane he used for official travel. At least two helicopters dropped water on the flames.

County fire officials ordered residents to evacuate the area around the library, which includes a number of sprawling ranch properties. Residents in face masks coaxed nervy horses into trailers to drive them to safety.

A number of structures in the area were ablaze, according to video broadcast by local television station ABC 7 News.

A few employees remained at the library, which has fire doors and sprinklers, spokeswoman Melissa Giller told ABC7 News. The library has trucked in goats in years past to eat away flammable scrub around the building’s perimeter.

The Santa Ana winds are a regional weather phenomenon that sends gusts westward off the desert out to the Southern California coast. They are forecast to reach sustained speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour (80 to 110 km per hour) on Wednesday and Thursday, raising the risk of sparks and embers being whipped into fresh wildfires in unburned areas.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said extremely high winds could also force the grounding of water-dropping helicopters, a vital component of the firefighting arsenal.

City arson investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch being blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning. It continued to grow in size, consuming 745 acres (300 hectares) by Wednesday morning, with about a quarter contained by firefighters. At least 12 homes have been destroyed.

Electricity remained cut off to roughly half a million homes and businesses in Northern and Central California on Tuesday as a precaution by the state’s largest utility.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has accused utilities of failing to adequately modernize and safely maintain their power systems.

BLACKOUTS

In Northern California, where firefighters struggled for a sixth day against the 76,000-acre (30,760-hectate) Kincade Fire in Sonoma County’s winemaking region, high-wind forecasts prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co <PCG.N> to impose a new round of blackouts for nearly 600,000 homes and business.

That included about 400,000 customers blacked out in a power shutoff that PG&E instituted days earlier, the company said.

Early Wednesday, PG&E announced that it had restored about 73 percent of the 970,000 or so customers affected in earlier shutoffs.

Utilities serving Southern California’s more urban areas have imposed smaller-scale outages.

PG&E acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire broke out near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line carried by that tower malfunctioned.

The company filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

Citing progress made against the Kincade fire, Newsom said the number of evacuees in Northern California had diminished from 190,000 at the peak of that blaze to 130,000 on Tuesday.

Property losses from the Kincade, listed at 30% contained, were put at 189 homes and other structures, double Monday’s tally.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

Dangerous dry winds forecast to sweep into fire-plagued Los Angeles

Dangerous dry winds forecast to sweep into fire-plagued Los Angeles
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Extraordinarily dry, prolonged Santa Ana winds are predicted to gust through Southern California on Wednesday, prompting strong warnings from meteorologists as residents contend with damaging wildfires.

It was a daunting forecast for firefighters battling a 600-acre (240-hectare) blaze consuming the shrub-covered hills near the Getty Center museum in Los Angeles that has displaced thousands of residents. A new brush fire erupted on Wednesday morning in nearby Simi Valley in Ventura County, prompting officials to order mandatory evacuations in the suburbs around the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The National Weather Service issued an “extreme red flag” warning for wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen us use this warning,” said forecaster Marc Chenard. “It’s pretty bad.”

Statewide, the weather service issued warnings of dangerous fire weather conditions covering more than 34,000 square miles (88,000 square km), encompassing some 21 million people. Scientists have linked an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires to climate change.

The Santa Ana winds are a regional weather phenomenon that sends gusts westward off the desert out to the Southern California coast. They are forecast to reach sustained speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour (80 to 110 km per hour) on Wednesday and Thursday, raising the risk of sparks and embers being whipped into fresh wildfires in unburned areas.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said extremely high winds could also force the grounding of water-dropping helicopters, a vital component of the firefighting arsenal.

City arson investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch being blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning.

Electricity remained cut off to roughly half a million homes and businesses in Northern and Central California on Tuesday as a precaution by the state’s largest utility.

Governor Gavin Newsom has accused utilities of failing to adequately modernize and safely maintain their power systems.

GAINING GROUND

An army of some 1,100 firefighters battled the Getty fire Tuesday in a narrow window of slower winds. By early Wednesday, crews had managed to contain about 15 percent of the blaze.

In Northern California, where firefighters struggled for a sixth day against a 76,000-acre (30,760-hectate) blaze in Sonoma County’s winemaking region, high-wind forecasts prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co <PCG.N> to impose a new round of blackouts for nearly 600,000 homes and business.

That included about 400,000 customers blacked out in a power shutoff that PG&E instituted days earlier, the company said.

Early Wednesday, PG&E announced that it had restored about 73 percent of the 970,000 or so customers affected in earlier shutoffs.

Utilities serving Southern California’s more highly urbanized areas have imposed smaller-scale outages.

PG&E has been implicated in the Sonoma County blaze, dubbed the Kincade fire. The utility acknowledged last week that the Kincade fire broke out near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line carried by that tower malfunctioned.

The company filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

Citing progress made against the Kincade fire, Newsom said the number of evacuees in Northern California had diminished from 190,000 at the peak of that blaze to 130,000 on Tuesday.

Property losses from the Kincade, listed at 15% contained, were put at 189 homes and other structures, double Monday’s tally.

The size of the Getty fire’s evacuation zone was reduced by roughly 3,000 homes on Tuesday but residents of about 7,000 homes remained displaced, fire officials said. At least a dozen homes have been destroyed so far.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis)

New Fast-moving Los Angeles wildfire destroys homes, prompts evacuation orders

Fast-moving Los Angeles wildfire destroys homes, prompts evacuation orders
(Reuters) – Thousands of people in Los Angeles were ordered to evacuate after a fast-moving brush fire ignited early on Monday morning near the Getty Center museum, the latest outbreak in a wildfire season that has scorched parts of California.

Spot fires break out on a hillside as the Getty Fire burns in west Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Spot fires break out on a hillside as the Getty Fire burns in west Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

The fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) and has since grown to consume more than 500 acres (202 hectares) in the scrub-covered hills around Interstate 405, near some of the city’s most expensive homes. Commuters posted videos of slopes aglow with orange flames close to the road’s edge.

At least five homes had burned down but there were no reported injuries, Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters at a news conference with fire officials, warning that he expected the number to rise.

“This is a fire that quickly spread,” he said, urging residents in the evacuation zone, which encompasses more than 3,300 homes, to get out quickly.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who lives in the area, said he had heeded the warning and had been driving around before dawn with his family looking for shelter.

“Finally found a place to accommodate us!” he wrote a short time later on Twitter. “Crazy night man!”

Officials at the Getty art museum said the fire was burning to the north of the building, which was designed with thick stone walls to prevent fire from damaging its treasures.

The fierce winds fanning wildfires elsewhere in the state, including a large fire consuming parts of the picturesque wine country north of San Francisco, were expected to abate on Monday.

But forecasters with the National Weather Service said high winds would return later in the week and could be the strongest so far this year in the south of the state.

Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center, said wind gusts in northern California would abate by midday and in the south of the state by later in the afternoon.

Wind gusts can be between 50 to 60 miles per hour (80-96 kph), with some significantly higher, he said.

The northern California wine country has borne the brunt of the fires, with 84 square miles (218 sq km) burned and 190,000 people evacuated in the Kincade fire.

Only about 5% of that fire was contained early on Monday after crews lost ground against the wind-driven wildfire a day earlier.

About 3,000 people were battling the Kincade Fire, the worst of more than a dozen major blazes that have damaged or destroyed nearly 400 structures and prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a statewide emergency.

Investigators have not yet said what they believed caused the blaze, although it ignited near a broken wire on a Pacific Gas & Electric <PCG.N> transmission tower.

POWER OUTAGES

More than a million homes and businesses were without power on Monday morning, most of those from planned outages. Forecasts of high winds had prompted PG&E to shut off power to 940,000 customers in 43 counties on Saturday night to guard against the risk of touching off wildfires.

PG&E expects to issue a weather all clear for safety inspections and restoration work to begin early Monday morning for the northern Sierras and North Coast, the company said.

The governor has been sharply critical of PG&E, saying corporate greed and mismanagement kept it from upgrading its infrastructure while wildfire hazards have steadily worsened over the past decade.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, citing billions of dollars in civil liabilities from deadly wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Healdsburg, California, additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Bill Berkrot)

Fast-moving fires near Los Angeles force more than 40,000 to flee

Fast-moving fires near Los Angeles force more than 40,000 to flee
By Stephen Lam

GEYSERVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – California firefighters on Friday sought to take advantage of a brief lull in high winds behind fast-moving wildfires that forced the evacuation of more than 40,000 residents north of Los Angeles and another 2,000 in the state’s wine country.

With winds abating, crews worked overnight to battle a newly-started fire about 40 miles (64 km) north of Los Angeles that was threatening 10,000 homes and businesses, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.

Officials warned residents not to be deceived by the overnight lull, as the National Weather Service (NWS) forecast a pickup in hot, dry winds by Friday morning with gusts of 45 to 55 mph (72 to 89 kph) and temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

“Let’s not let our guard down,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. She told a press conference 40,000 to 50,000 residents had been forced from homes by late Thursday with “numerous” structures destroyed.

California’s wildfires generally erupt in the fall as hot, dry Santa Ana winds blow westward from the desert after a dry summer. Last year, at least 85 people died in one of the deadliest such fires, known as the Camp Fire in Butte County.

The so-called Tick Fire, which began Thursday afternoon just outside the city of Santa Clarita, had consumed about 4,000 acres and was only 5 percent contained as of late Thursday, the county fire department said.

Another burst of high winds was expected over the weekend, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

To the north, where firefighters were battling a smattering of blazes, crews had restored power to most of the nearly 200,000 homes and businesses intentionally left in the dark because of risk of high winds downing electrical lines.

DAMAGED ELECTRICITY TOWER

Power had been shut off to residents from the Sierra Foothills to the North Bay and San Mateo and Kern counties.

But by early Friday, Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E) said it restored power to most of its 178,000 customers in portions of 18 counties shut off, and it expected to have the rest reconnected by the end of the day.

While the cause of the worst of the blazes, the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, has not been determined, it appears to have erupted near the base of a damaged high-voltage transmission tower owned by PG&E.

The company, a unit of bankrupt holding company PG&E Corp <PCG.N>, said in an “electric safety incident” report to the California Public Utilities Commission that one of its power lines malfunctioned at about the time and in the location of the fire’s origin on Wednesday night.

Neither PG&E nor the commission said whether the damaged tower or the malfunctioning transmission line attached to it were suspected of igniting the blaze, which has destroyed about a dozen homes and other structures.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said it is investigating. It listed the same place and time of origin for the fire as the tower incident reported by PG&E.

By early Friday, the Kincade fire had scorched about 16,000 acres and forced some 2,000 people to flee their homes, Cal Fire said.

No injuries have been reported and only 800 acres had been contained, it said.

Mandatory evacuations began with the 900 residents of historic Geyserville on Thursday, and continued climbing to 2,000 across Sonoma County through the day, the county sheriff’s office said.

Geyserville and nearby Healdsburg, part of which was under an evacuation warning, are hubs of upscale restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, inns and shops surrounded by hills dotted with vineyards about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Geyserville; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Cawthorne)

California wildfires force evacuations, cause power outages

California wildfires force evacuations, cause power outages
By Subrat Patnaik and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – California emergency officials on Thursday ordered hundreds of people to evacuate a historic wine country town north of San Francisco, and nearly 200,000 were without power, as a growing wildfire spread in Sonoma County.

Driven by strong winds, the Kincade fire engulfed some 10,000 acres (4,047 hectares) by Thursday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Sonoma County Sheriff issued a mandatory evacuation order for the town of Geyserville, home to almost 900 people.

A video posted on social media by a local reporter showed a glowing blaze against the still-dark backdrop of an early morning sky and a strong wind buffeting into the microphone.

Large parts of California were under red-flag alerts this week, suggesting a heightened risk of fire, amid high temperatures and powerful winds, officials said.

About 185,000 customers were without power in the state on Thursday morning, according to poweroutage.us.

More than half a million homes and businesses in the state could lose power this week as utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric <PCG.N> and Southern California Edison <SCE_pe.A>, cut off electricity as a preventive measure against wildfires.

Over 308,000 customers in seven counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura in southern California, were under consideration for Public Safety Power Shutoffs, Southern California Edison said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard said the worst of the winds would arrive later in the day and into Friday.

“It looks like at its worst, southern California will see wind gusts of 55 miles per hour (89 kph). Down in some of the coastal areas, the winds could reach 75 miles per hour (121 kph) later today,” he said.

Power lines could be knocked down, potentially igniting fires among arid trees and vegetation, according to earlier forecasts.

Bankrupt Californian power producer PG&E cut off electricity to more than 730,000 homes and workplaces in northern California earlier this month to try to reduce the risk of wildfires amid extremely windy and dry weather.

Chenard added that northern California could experience dangerous wind gusts of up to 45 mph.

“This is not going to abate until at least this weekend,” he said.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)