California wildfires: Fear as 180,000 flee homes

Authorities in northern California have ordered 180,000 residents to flee their homes as winds fuelled a wildfire in the wine country.

The fear that the winds could blow embers and spread fire across a major road prompted authorities to expand evacuation orders that covered parts of Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 that was devastated by a wildfire two years ago.

The latest evacuation orders came after Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to 2.3 million people across 38 counties starting on Saturday evening.

“This is the largest evacuation that any of us… can remember,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.

“Take care of each other.”

About 90,000 residents were already under a mandatory evacuation order on Saturday night that encompassed a huge swathe of wine country stretching from the inland community of Healdsburg west through the Russian River Valley and to Bodega Bay on the coast, Sonoma County sheriff Mark Essick said.

The sheriff pleaded with residents in the evacuation zone to get out immediately, citing the 24 lives lost when a wildfire swept through the region two years ago.

“I’m seeing people reporting that they’re going to stay and fight this fire,” Mr Essick said.

“You cannot fight this. Please evacuate.”

The current wildfire, dubbed the Kincade fire, began on Wednesday night and is only 10pc contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said yesterday.

It grew by almost 4,000 acres overnight to 30,000 acres and has destroyed 79 structures.

The fire was expected to be especially unwieldy yesterday due to powerful winds. Yesterday morning, the National Weather Service reported wind gusts topped 145kmh in Healdsburg Hills North, a popular tourist attraction in northern California’s wine country.

Healdsburg lost one of its historic attractions to the flames yesterday when embers carried by the winds sparked a blaze that engulfed the Soda Rock Winery.

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