David Culley was frantically packing his restaurant in Windsor, Calif., Saturday morning as his wife removed treasured photos and mementos from the walls. The evacuation order arrived late Friday night, and the small, wine-country city of was a “ghost town,” he said, with just a handful of cars parked in the usually bustling square.

Culley lost his home to the Tubbs Fire in 2017 – one of the state’s deadliest wildfires on record. Now a new inferno was bearing down on the region, and Culley feared he would lose everything. Again.


Vines surround a burning building Thursday as the Kincade Fire burns through the Jimtown community of unincorporated Sonoma County, Calif. Noah Berger/Associated Press

Parts of Northern California faced the prospect of new infernos and nearly a million power outages as a potentially “historic” wind event was forecast to sweep into the state on Saturday.

The ongoing Kincade Fire, which sparked Wednesday night in Sonoma County and has already consumed more than 25,000 acres, is expected to worsen. Strong winds with low humidity will create what the National Weather Service called “extreme fire weather.”

“I’ve seen what a firestorm is; it’s catastrophic,” said Culley, the owner of KC’s American Kitchen, his voice shaking. “To know that a monster could be coming this way is really, really disturbing.”

Officials issued new evacuation orders on Saturday, bringing the total to about 50,000. Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick urged residents to “start evacuating now,” before the sun went down and precautionary power outages began. Residents along the Route 101 corridor from Geyserville to South Windsor were urged to leave their homes; forecasts indicated the fire could spread through that region in particular, officials said.

Evacuees could find shelter at the Santa Rosa veterans memorial hall, as well as the Petaluma veterans hall and fair grounds, authorities said.

The National Weather Service warned of 60 to 80 mph gusts through the mountain regions of Northern and Central California between Saturday night and Monday morning, with lesser, but still powerful, winds reaching valleys and coastal areas.

“It’s going to be an aggressive fire fight,” said Edwin Duniga, spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “All our firefighters have been told to keep an eye out, to be smart out there, be safe. Because terrain like this makes it hard for firefighters, and (makes it) super dangerous as the winds pick up.”

The ongoing wildfires come on the heels of the devastating 2017 and 2018 California fire seasons, which featured the largest, most destructive and deadliest blazes in state history. It’s part of a clear pattern toward larger, more frequent and destructive blazes, as well as a longer-lasting fire season. And, according to CalFire, “climate change is considered a key driver of this trend.” Population growth and the increase in homes and businesses located near lands that typically burn are also escalating the risk of and damage from wildfires in the Golden State.

Forecasters at the Weather Service say this wind event could bring the most explosive wildfire conditions since the 2017 wine country fires, which damaged much of the city of Santa Rosa and killed 22 people.

The strong winds in the forecast will pose a high risk of sparks, which would lead to potentially rapidly spreading wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric said in a statement Friday. Approximately 940,000 customers, comprising about 2.8 million people across Northern and Central California, could be without power through the weekend as PG&E stood ready to cut power to the regions most at risk from the blaze.

As of Saturday morning, about 850 customers in Sonoma County did not have power due to the fire, or because of precautionary shut-offs, PG&E spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn said.

The weekend outage would mark the second major shut-off spurred by PG&E this month. Power cuts from the gas and electric company about two weeks ago left nearly 2 million people without power at its apex.

Hundreds of miles south, the winds had changed more favorably for firefighters in Los Angeles County, where significant progress was made in halting the Tick Fire. Since Thursday, the blaze had consumed 4,300 acres and prompted as many as 50,000 people to evacuate after strong seasonal winds caused flames to race through the densely populated canyon region. Nine homes were destroyed

Karianna Bolstead was at her brother’s home near Santa Clarita on Thursday evening when she saw flames burning through the chaparral of yards several feet away. She covered her mouth, ran down the hill back to her brother’s home and yelled for him and his wife to leave. She fled in her own pickup truck, and spent a sleepless night pulled over on the side of the road after her cellphone died and she couldn’t navigate through the thick, blinding smoke.

“I’ve been here since the ’50s – I’ve seen a lot of fires,” Bolstead said. “This is the most volatile and explosive and fast-moving one I’d ever seen.”

The fire was 25 percent contained as of Saturday morning, and emergency crews were now focused on mitigating the hot spots left over from the line of flames and preventing embers from igniting new fires, said Capt. A.J. Lester of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

By Saturday morning, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 had been able to return to their homes, Lester said. Areas within the fire’s perimeter remained under evacuation orders, and over 1,300 firefighters remained on the scene. Two evacuation centers for fleeing residents had been established at nearby schools, as well as a separate location for animals.

Los Angeles County, as well as Sonoma County, have been under a state of emergency since Friday.

As Northern California prepares for a new onslaught from the Kincade Fire, PG&E is facing extreme scrutiny after reporting that though the utility said it cut power in Northern California on Wednesday, it had left stretches of high-voltage power transmission lines active in the region where the Sonoma County fire broke out. The same type of transmission line was responsible for the state’s deadliest wildfire ever – the Camp Fire in 2018.

The company’s shares plunged to $5 on Friday, a 30 percent decrease, MarketWatch reported. Such a tumble could hinder PG&E Corp.’s attempt to make its way out of bankruptcy. The utility filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January due to liabilities in previous fires.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said there have been discussions about PG&E’s culpability, but they were not “conclusive.” The blame for the fire “is neither determined nor is that investigation complete,” he said, adding that he plans to hold the company accountable for “years and years of mismanagement.”

PG&E chief executive Bill Johnson said the company is conducting an internal investigation but has not accepted responsibility for the fire, adding that officials don’t know precisely how it started. “We still, at this point, do not know what exactly happened,” he said at a Thursday news conference.

South of Sonoma County’s mandatory evacuation zones, residents scarred by the memory of the 2017 fires kept a wary on forecasts and made sure their backup generators were charged.

“We’re all kind of on high alert and everybody has PTSD from the last fire,” said Brent Bessire, an owner of Fogline Vineyards in Fulton, Calif. “This time you have a warning, people are getting more prepared.”

On Saturday, he and his family were clearing the brush around their facility to mitigate any possible fuel. The winery was closed, and they’d been packing and trying to figure out what to do with their numerous animals, which included dogs, llamas and rabbits.

Bessire watched the glow of the Kincade fire from over a mountain ridge earlier this week, and the smoke had been wafting their way. On Saturday, he kept an eye to the north, waiting for the winds to start.

“It’s very disconcerting, to say the least,” he said.

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