Fires erupt in Calif.’s wine country

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Another round of wildfires erupted in Northern California, forcing evacuations and casting thick smoke over the region as hot weather and high winds leave the state perilously dry.

A blaze in the wine country north of San Francisco more than quadrupled in size overnight to 11,000 acres, ripping through a region devastated by fires just three years ago. The fire, along with a second one in Shasta County, came even after the state’s largest utility, PG&E Corp., cut power to about 195,000 people in an attempt to keep its electric lines from sparking blazes.

Across California, more than 36,000 square miles — an area larger than the entire state of Indiana — is under threat from critical fire conditions, affecting about 5.8 million people, the U.S. Storm Prediction Center said. And blazes are spreading fast, fanned by dry winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 60 mph.

More than 18,000 firefighters are battling 27 major blazes across California.

“Any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly,” the National Weather Service said.

The State of California was the top municipal bond issuer of 2019, selling $9.49 billion in 12 deals. So far this year, the Golden State has issued $6.3 billion of bonds in six transactions.

California has been battered for weeks by rounds of extreme weather fueled by climate change. Last month, a record-breaking heat wave triggered the state’s first rotating power outages since the 2001 energy crisis — and was followed just three weeks later by another one. More than 8,000 wildfires have burned a record 3.7 million acres this year, choking cities with smoke, killing at least 26 people and destroying more than 7,000 structures.

On Monday, more than 18,000 firefighters were battling 27 major blazes across the state.

PG&E — which went bankrupt last year after its equipment ignited catastrophic fires — fell as much as 6.1%, the most in three months during intraday trading. The causes of the latest blazes remain under investigation.

In Napa County, the Glass Fire broke out early Sunday and was raging uncontrollably northeast of Santa Rosa, triggering thousands of evacuations. The area was devastated in 2017 by the Tubbs Fire, which was among the most destructive in California history.

About 180 miles north, the Zogg Fire in Shasta County has already burned 7,000 acres. Both blazes prompted evacuations. Butte County, meanwhile, issued an immediate evacuation order for some communities on Sunday due to the ongoing North Complex Fire.

Nearly half the state is under an air quality alert. Smoke from the new blazes is already reaching Bay Area cities that have been choked for weeks by bad air from blazes across the region.

While winds are forecast to ebb late Monday, potentially giving firefighters a break, the heat will continue. High temperatures in Sacramento are expected to hit 99 degrees on Monday and rise to 101 degrees by Wednesday. Los Angeles may hit 101 on Wednesday.

Utilities across the U.S. West are increasingly cutting power ahead of wind storms to reduce the chances of their live wires igniting blazes. In Southern California, investigators are looking at a power line owned by Edison International’s Southern California Edison as part of their probe into a fire that’s burning in the mountains near Los Angeles.

PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) has begun in portions of four counties in Northern Sierra and North Valley.

PG&E began shutting off power on Sunday to parts of 16 counties. The move affected about 65,000 homes and businesses, or about 195,000 people based on the size of the average California household. All customers should have their power back on by the end of the day on Monday, the company said.

The outages are considerably smaller in scope than previous ones. Earlier this month, PG&E cut power to about 172,000 homes and businesses — or about 516,000 people — as high winds raked California. PG&E emerged from bankruptcy in July after settling wildfire claims for $25.5 billion.

Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas & Electric has said Sunday it may also have to turn off power to about 700 customers in the mountainous areas of San Diego County due to the expected arrival of Santa Ana winds.

California’s peak wildfire season traditionally runs from September through November. It has grown longer and less predictable in recent years, with blazes coming as late as December.

Bloomberg News
State of California Climate change Utilities
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