Los Angeles — Southern California utilities cut power to tens of thousands of customers Thursday to reduce the risk of sparking new wildfires — but newpopped up regardless, forcing hundreds to evacuate their homes. The power cuts, and many thousands more that are possible in the coming days, were aimed at reducing the fire threat as the region found itself whipped by Santa Ana winds that can turn sparks into catastrophes.
Red flag warnings of extreme fire danger were in place Thursday throughout much of the region because of low humidity, bone-dry brush and the winds, which sweep down from the interior with sustained speeds up to 35 mph and gusts of 50 to 70 mph, the National Weather Service said.
The warnings were set to remain in place into Saturday, with the winds at their greatest overnight and in early morning hours, the weather service said.
CBS Los Angeles reported that a more than 7,200-acre wildfire broke out late Wednesday night in Silverado Canyon, east of Irvine, forcing hundreds of people to flee their homes.
The, which was sparked by a house fire, broke out sometime before 11 p.m. in the 29400 block of Silverado Canyon Road. There was still no containment of the blaze as of Thursday evening.
Two firefighters were taken to a hospital after being injured while battling the fire, according to the Orange County Fire Authority. No other details, including the extent of injuries, were immediately available.
Mandatory evacuations were issued overnight for Silverado Canyon, Williams Canyon and Modjeska Canyon, according to the Orange County Fire Authority, and CBS L.A. said at least 10 other communities were under evacuation advisories.
Utilities in the populous region began cutting power Wednesday to customers as a precaution to prevent gusts from blowing tree limbs into electrical equipment or knocking down power lines, which in recent years have sparked devastating wildfires.
Southern California Edison had cut power to more than 52,000 customers by Thursday afternoon and was considering de-energizing lines serving almost 250,000 customers in five counties throughout the windy period, which could last into Saturday., CBS L.A. reported. It was one of the utility's largest precautionary blackouts.
San Diego Gas & Electric pulled the plug on over 55,000 customers as of Thursday evening, with an additional 40,000 potentially being affected.
"We recognize losing power is disruptive, and we sincerely thank our customers for their patience and understanding," the utility said.
Another blaze, dubbed the Willow Fire, had burned 30 acres in San Diego County since it started Wednesday and was at 50% containment Thursday evening, according to Cal Fire, California's state firefighting agency. At one point, the fire threatened about 200 homes and officials were working to evacuate them, said Captain Thomas Shoots. While crews were making progress on containing the flames, one home was destroyed and six others were damaged, the agency reported on Twitter.
California already has experienced its. More than 6,500 square miles have been scorched, a total larger than the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. At least 31 people have been killed and 10,500 homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.
The latest fire threat comes as much of California plunges deeper into drought. Virtually all of Northern California is in severe or extreme drought while nearly all of Southern California is abnormally dry or worse.
"Some years there's some rain that tamps down the fire season. But not yet this year," said meteorologist Adam Roser with the weather service in San Diego.
No rain is expected for Southern California for at least the next week and a half, he said.
Northern California, which has seen more precipitation this fall but not much recently, was expecting dry, windy weather starting this weekend.