Wildfire Destroys Homes, Causes Injuries in California Mobile Home Park

By Reuters
October 11, 2019USshare

A fierce wildfire that erupted in Southern California on Oct. 10 destroyed homes and structures and caused “numerous medical emergencies” at a Riverside County mobile home park, fire officials said.

No further details were immediately available on how many mobile homes had been burned or the nature of medical emergencies.

The Sandalwood Fire was one of about 275 wildfires that have broken out across California in the past 24 hours as hot, gusty winds signaled the start of its peak fire season, state officials said at a news conference.

Although many of the blazes were quickly contained by firefighters, the risk to life and property has prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co cut power to about 600,000 customers, a move that California Governor Gavin Newsom blamed on years of mismanagement by the utility.

The Sandalwood Fire, which erupted shortly before 2 p.m. in the Riverside County community of Calimesa, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, quickly charred more than 500 acres and burned a single-family home to the ground.

California wildfires
This photo from video provided by KABC-TV shows Strong, gusting winds push flames through the Villa Calimesa mobile home park in Calimesa, Calif., southeast of San Bernardino on Oct. 10, 2019. (KABC-TV via AP)

The blaze, driven by winds gusting up to 55 miles per hour, spread to a mobile-home park, where more structures were destroyed and injuries were reported, the Riverside County Fire Department said on its website.

“Multiple structures destroyed and numerous medical emergencies (no further information) inside the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park. Threat to railway and power grid,” the fire department said.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for residents near the mobile home park, fire officials said.

California wildfires
Firefighters try to protect surrounding homes as they battle the Sandalwood Fire in the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Calimesa, Calif., on Oct. 10, 2019. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)

The National Weather Service said the hot gusty winds that usually hit northern California in October, sometimes called the “Diablo Winds”, will continue into Friday morning.

Much of northern California, from San Francisco to the Oregon border, remains under a state “red flag” fire alert.

Newsom faulted PG&E for putting what he called “greed” ahead of investments in its infrastructure to harden the electrical grid against dangerous winds.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from major wildfires linked to its transmission wires and other equipment.

Santa Ana Winds May Force New Power Outages

As winds moved south, a similar cutoff was underway by Southern California Edison, which warned more than 173,000 customers they could lose power.

Edison turned off electricity to about 20,000 people in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino and Kern counties but warned that thousands more could lose service as Santa Ana winds gained strength.

Winds gusted dangerously as forecast before calming in Northern California, where PG&E faced hostility and second-guessing over its widespread shut-offs.

PGE Power Shutdown
The map shows PG&E’s power shutoffs in the Bay Area, Northern California. (Photo courtesy of PG&E)

Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized PG&E and ordinary customers complained about the inconveniences caused by the unprecedented blackouts that began midweek, with many wondering: Did the utility go too far in its attempt to ward off more deadly fires? Could it have been more targeted in deciding whose electricity was turned off and when?

PG&E, though, suggested it was already seeing the wisdom of its decision borne out as gusts topping 77 mph raked the San Francisco Bay Area amid a bout of dry, windy weather.

“We have found multiple cases of damage or hazards” caused by heavy winds, including fallen branches that came in contact with overhead lines, said Sumeet Singh, a vice president for the utility. “If they were energized, they could’ve ignited.”

Because of the dangerous weather in the forecast, PG&E cut power Wednesday to an estimated 2 million people in an area that spanned the San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country north of San Francisco, the agricultural Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. By Thursday evening, the weather had eased and the number of people in the dark was down to about 510,000.

Inspections and repairs were expected to resume at daybreak and power could be restored Friday to many more customers, Singh said.

By Dan Whitcomb, Brian Melley and Jonathan J. Cooper

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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