California Wildfire Might Reach Reagan Library, Getty Museum

Published October 31st, 2019 - 10:47 GMT
Forecasters have issued a rare extreme red flag warning for wildfires in the south of the state, saying the risk of blazes remains very high. (AFP/ File Photo)
Forecasters have issued a rare extreme red flag warning for wildfires in the south of the state, saying the risk of blazes remains very high. (AFP/ File Photo)
Three people have died in the California wildfires devastating the state this week.

Firefighters have quickly put out the latest California wildfire which came within 30 yards of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  

The brush blaze was dubbed the Easy Fire, and erupted in Simi Valley, just 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles, around 6.15am on Wednesday in the hills along Tierra Rejada Road, north of the library, which had been evacuated. 

The library is home to Reagan's presidential records, his Air Force One aircraft and is the burial place of the late president and his wife. 

The flames quickly spread as hurricane force wind gusts at 74mph blew in a westerly direction quickly scorching through over 1,300 acres of land. About 26,000 people were forced to flee their homes due the Easy Fire, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayoub said in a news conference Wednesday. 

Three people have been killed in the devastating wildfires since Sunday with the infernos fueled by notoriously powerful Santa Ana 'Devil Winds' sweeping the area that downed trees and fanned the flames. 

Homeless Santa Cruz woman Deseire Quintero, 55, was fatally crushed by a falling tree on Sunday. Fresno couple Edward and Iva Poulson were killed when a tree fell in vicious 30mph winds on their red Jeep in Bass Lake Monday night, leading their vehicle to veer off an embankment and hit more trees.

Officials revealed Tuesday that the massive Getty Fire, which has burned through 745 acres of Los Angeles and threatens the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, was sparked by a tree branch that fell on top of power lines and ignited nearby brush. 

Dashcam footage of the moment that blaze first ignited around 1.30am Monday night on the west side of Sepulveda Pass was released by the Los Angeles Fire Department. Officials stressed the blaze was not the result of faulty equipment. The branch came from a tree 25 feet above the power line and 20 feet up a hill, according to KABC-TV. 

'The fire was likely caused by a tree branch that broke off during the high wind conditions and subsequently landed on nearby power lines, which resulted in sparking and arcing that ignited nearby brush,' The Los Angeles  Fire Department announced. 

'This was, simply put in plain parlance, an act of God,' Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a news conference.  

On Wednesday thousands of people in the Getty Fire burn area remained evacuated as dry and sustained winds of up to 55mph beat the area and tested firefighters. At the moment the fire is just 27 percent contained, authorities said Wednesday. 

One firefighter was injured in the flames Tuesday night and about 18 buildings were reportedly destroyed, according to USA Today. About 600 Department of Water and Power customers in the fire area remained without power Tuesday. 

So far the Getty Fire has claimed three lives.  

Edward Poulson, 62, and Iva Maria Poulson, 59, died on Sunday. Their son reported them missing and their bashed vehicle was found on Monday. Neighbors say the Poulsons lived in the town of Coarsegold and the husband had retired just last year. 

Deseire Quintero was identified as another victim of the blaze after she was crushed by a tree that fell in high winds around 9.40am on Sunday in Pogonip Park. She was discovered by a hiker who found her and an injured man near the Rincon Trail. She was unconscious when police arrived and declared dead after lifesaving efforts.

She was a former firefighter who was unable to find housing despite obtaining a Section 8 housing assistance voucher, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. 

Southern California fire authorities grappled with the Simi Valley 'Easy Fire', which threatened to burn down the 300-acre presidential Ronald Reagan Library before it was brought under control and extinguished.

The library spans 243,000 square feet and was completed in 1991. Both Ronald and Nancy Reagan are buried at the site.

A skeleton staff stayed at the library, even though officials posted a mandatory evacuation for the area which includes the library. One of those staffers said they felt 'really safe' despite the blaze's fast approach, according to CNN. 

The library is home to the presidential records from Reagan's time in office as well as his Air Force One aircraft, the Marine One helicopter used by President Johnson, and a section of masonry from the Berlin Wall. 

At least 150 firefighters were on the scene Wednesday morning, attacking the Easy Fire from all angles, including from above, dropping fire retardant on the area. 

A second blaze, named the Water Fire, then broke out at 7.19am in Nuevo, burning through several buildings but was quickly controlled. 

A third fire spanning 100 acres called the Hill Fire broke out Jurupa Valley, according to Riverside County Fire Department. The wildfire quickly jumped from 1 to 100 acres as winds picked up to 20 mph. It was 0% contained by noon, according to ABC. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday the state secured a grant from the federal emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fight the Easy Fire.

The grant assisted agencies responding to the blaze to apply for reimbursement for fire suppression costs.

'The continued real-time assistance provided as California grapples with fires across the state has been critical to our efforts to keep communities safe and reduce damages,' Newsom said. 'We are thankful to our federal, state and local partners for their extraordinary, collaborative response in this challenging time.' 

The dry and powerful Santa Ana 'Devil Winds', which are notorious for fanning wildfires, are expected to blast through Southern California Wednesday, whipping up new wildfires after a brief respite on Tuesday.  

The National Weather Service issued a rare 'extreme red flag' warning for wildfires had been issued as Santa Ana winds of up to 70mph were forecast effective Tuesday at 11pm and expected to persist into Thursday night, bringing the potential for 'rapid fire spread' and 'extreme fire behavior'. 

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'I don't know if I've ever seen us use this warning,' said NWS forecaster Marc Chenard. 'It's pretty bad.' 

'It takes one ember, just one ember downwind, to start another brush fire, so I encourage all people in the city of Los Angeles and the neighboring communities to register for alerts,' Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said.  

Meanwhile 1.5million people suffered through another night without electricity on Wednesday, at least 1million of whom haven't had power for four days.

Anger was mounting at Pacific Gas & Electric, the state's largest utility company, after it cut the supply Tuesday in order to stop branches being blown on to power lines, or lines being brought down on to tinder-dry ground, causing the blazes.

Among those venting their frustration was chef and caterer Jane Sykes, who was forced to throw out $1,000 worth of food, including trays of brownies, cupcakes and puff pastry. 

She also had little hope of getting a good night's sleep - there was no way to run the machine she relies on to counter her apnea.

'I don't think PG&E really thought this through,' she lamented.

PG&E officials said they understood the hardships caused by the safety blackouts but continued to insist they were necessary.

On Wednesday firefighters got ready to do battle again after a day of light breezes that helped them gain ground against a blaze displacing thousands of Los Angeles residents near the Getty Center museum. 

The NWS's Storm Prediction Center said that a critical or extreme fire danger existed for more than 34,000 square miles of California, encompassing some 21 million people.

Governor Gavin Newsom, who has accused utilities of failing to adequately modernize and safely maintain their power systems, paid a visit to the Getty fire zone on Tuesday afternoon.

'This is a challenging time,' Newsom told reporters at a command center in the University of California's Los Angeles campus.

In total there are 17 fires raging fury up and down the state of California. While the Getty Fire is the greatest menace is the southern part of the state, in the north the monster Kincade is wreaking havoc in Sonoma County in the heart of wine country.. 

As of Wednesday the Kincade Fire burned through 76,138 acres and was just 15% contained. Sustained gusts between 20 and 30 mph threatened to fan the 118-square-mile blaze. 

So far the Kincade has damaged or destroyed more than 200 buildings including an 150-year-old winery. About 80,000 homes are threatened in the blaze, leading officials to open 15 evacuation centers. Around 200,000 residents have been forced to evacuate since the blaze, which erupted on October 23, ravaged the area.  

Due to the fires, Pacific Gas & Electric turned off power in 29 counties Tuesday keeping about 1.5million customers in Northern and Central California in the dark.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said extremely high winds could also force water-dropping helicopters, a vital component of the firefighting arsenal, to be grounded. 

An army of some 1,100 firefighters battled the Getty fire Tuesday in a narrow window of slower winds and consolidated those gains a day after flames and embers spread over scrub-covered slopes around expensive homes on the city's west side. 

PG&E has been implicated in the Sonoma County blaze, dubbed the Kincade fire. The utility acknowledged last week that the Kincade fire broke out near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line carried by that tower malfunctioned.

The company, whose mass power shutdowns have drawn harsh criticism from the governor, filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

Citing progress made against the Kincade fire, Newsom said the number of evacuees in northern California had diminished from 190,000 at the peak of that blaze to 130,000 on Tuesday.

Property losses from the Kincade, listed at 15% contained, were put at 189 homes and other structures, double Monday's tally.

The size of the Getty fire's evacuation zone was reduced by roughly 3,000 homes on Tuesday but residents of about 7,000 dwellings remained displaced, fire officials said. At least a dozen homes have been destroyed so far.

Southern California Edison, which had previously made safety shutoffs and then restored power, warned that it could black out more than 300,000 customers, or some 600,000 people.

Also Tuesday, Edison announced in a quarterly earnings report that it was 'likely' its equipment caused last year's Woolsey Fire, which killed three people and destroyed hundreds of homes in a swatch stretching from north of Los Angeles south through Malibu to the sea.

No deaths were reported from the current fires but weekend gusts may have claimed three lives. A 55-year-old homeless woman was crushed by a falling tree during high winds Sunday at a Santa Cruz campsite and a couple was killed the same day in a remote area of Madera County when a tree fell on their Jeep, which then crashed.

Across Northern California, people who weren't facing another day as fire refugees were worried about charging cellphones and electric vehicles, finding gasoline and cash, staying warm and keeping their food from spoiling.

Some ended up at centers set up by PG&E where people could go to power their electronics and get free water, snacks, flashlights and solar lanterns.

In Placer County, Angel Smith relied on baby wipes and blankets to keep her 13-month-old son Liam warm and clean. The family has been without power since Saturday night and cannot draw well water without electricity.

She ran a cord from her neighbors' generator to keep her phone and tablet charged so the two could watch movies. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing overnight in parts of Northern California.

'The hardest part about this for me has been making sure I keep my son warm as it gets cold here,' Smith said.

PG&E, which is in bankruptcy after its equipment was blamed for a string of disastrous fires over the past three years, including a blaze that all but destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people, has said its foremost concern is public safety.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom and top utility regulators have accused the company of mismanaging its power system and failing for decades to make the investments needed to ensure it's more durable. He and others have also complained that the utility has botched the outages by not keeping the public adequately informed.

PG&E Corp. President Bill Johnson says he talked to Newsom Tuesday and told him he agreed with his suggestion that the company give credits to customers who've been hit by pre-emptive power shut-offs. Newsom had suggested $100 per household, or $250 per business.

Johnson said the utility has agreed to provide a 'one-time bill credit' for people impacted by an Oct. 9 power cutoff that affected some 2 million people. But he didn't confirm a figure, saying the mechanics had yet to be worked out.

'We have agreed to move forward with a one-time bill credit for customers impacted by that event.'

This article has been adapted from its original source. 

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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