LOS ANGELES: Fire crews battled to contain two major blazes in California on Tuesday (Oct 29) as authorities warned of winds with dangerous gusts of up to 129kmh that could fan the flames and spark new infernos.
The National Weather Service issued a 24-hour wind advisory beginning from noon Tuesday for the northern part of California, where more than 4,500 firefighters have been deployed to fight the Kincade Fire - the largest in the state this year.
Farther south, where a fire near the Getty Center west of downtown Los Angeles has forced evacuations in upscale neighborhoods, the weather service warned of "extremely critical fire weather" beginning late Tuesday.
"This Santa Ana wind event will likely be the strongest we have seen so far this season," the weather service said, referring to winds that kick up in southern California every year.
"These strong winds combined with a long duration of single-digit humidities and dry fuels will likely bring very critical fire weather conditions, making this an extreme red flag warning event."
The winds are expected to peak at 3am on Wednesday and continue through Thursday.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the more than 7,000 residents evacuated in the wake of the Getty Fire, which erupted Monday and has burned at least a dozen homes, should not plan on returning until conditions are safe.
"IT TAKES ONE EMBER"
"It does take one ember, just one ember downwind, to start another brush fire,'' Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas warned during a press conference.
"Embers have been known to travel several miles, so we are very concerned about tonight's wind event," he added.
Authorities said the fire has scorched 265 hectares and was 15 per cent contained by early afternoon.
The critical weather warnings came just days after Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency because of the fires.
California's largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, has meanwhile been imposing rolling blackouts in the northern and central part of the state that have affected millions of people in a bid to reduce the risk of fire.
The company, which said that one of its transmission lines had malfunctioned near the origin of the Kincade Fire, north of San Francisco, announced on Tuesday that it was cutting power to nearly 60,000 customers as a precaution.
The Kincade Fire erupted last Wednesday, prompting the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people and destroying dozens of homes and wineries in the famed Sonoma region.
"It's just ashes. I lost my whole life there," 71-year-old Wade Hoefer told AFP as he surveyed the ruins of his painting studio at the historic Soda Rock Winery destroyed by the Kincade Fire.
"All I have is my clothes on my back," he said, adding that he was now living in his car.
Authorities said they don't expect to contain the fire - which has grown to 306 sq m - before Nov 7, after which it could still smolder for weeks.
At least a dozen other fires have broken out throughout the state in the last eight days, fed by strong winds, low humidity and high temperatures.
The wildfires come as California is still reeling from the aftermath of the most destructive wildfire in state history - the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 86 people.
Similar blazes in northern California, including in the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, killed 44 people in 2017 and destroyed thousands of structures.
Fire authorities determined that PG&E transmission lines caused the Camp Fire. The utility, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, has been held responsible for a number of other wildfires in recent years.