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California wildfires force evacuations as fierce winds fuel the blazes

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Toa55/iStock(NEW YORK) — Hundreds of firefighters across the state of California are battling multiple wildfires, fueled by dry air, fierce winds and high temperatures.

Over 190,000 California customers were in the dark Thursday as power companies preemptively cut electricity in an attempt to keep fires from starting.

The Kincade wildfire began in Sonoma County in Northern California’s wine country Wednesday night. Cal Fire arrived on the scene just after 9:30 p.m. to find a “large fire” burning through hundreds of acres of rough terrain, Cal Fire Cmdr. Mark Parks told reporters in a news conference Thursday.

As of Thursday night the blaze had grown to 16,000 acres, a 6,000-acre increase over the night before. More than 1,300 firefighters are battling the massive fire, which as of Thursday night was 5% contained.

Authorities said that so far 49 structures had been destroyed and about 2,000 residents had been evacuated.

“This is not the time to stay,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick told reporters.

Cal Fire spokesperson Amy Head said the fire is wind driven and it’s hard for crews to keep up.

“We just can’t keep ahead of it … we are almost chasing it and trying to catch up with it,” she said Thursday.

The community of Geyserville was under mandatory orders to evacuate immediately, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

In Southern California, winds are expected to be even stronger due to the higher mountain range, creating Santa Ana winds. Warnings for high wind and extreme fire danger are in effect in the southern part of the state through Friday.

In San Bernardino County, which is inland from Los Angeles, the Old Water fire threatened homes as winds gusted up to 50 mph.

By Thursday evening the blaze had consumed 75 acres and was 30% contained.

Schools were closed and residents were forced to evacuate.

A heat advisory is also in effect in Southern California with temperatures expected to reach the 90s from San Diego to Los Angeles. Dry air, high temperatures and winds all contribute to the spread of wildfires.

Up to 70 weather stations in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties are currently meeting Red Flag criteria with humidity levels between 4% and 9%, and critical fire dangers are stretching toward San Diego County.

A third fire, called the Tick Fire, broke out Thursday afternoon in the area of Tick Canyon Road in Canyon Country, and quickly grew to nearly 4,000 acres.

Some 40,000 residents were evacuated, according to county officials. At least six homes were burned, with about 10,000 homes and other buildings were being threatened by the blaze.

In a press conference Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized utility companies in the state for placing profits before customers and failing to prepare infrastructure, leading to the mass blackouts this past month.

“They need to be held accountable,” Newsom said.

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