Fierce winds expected to fan California’s deadly wildfires, 31 dead, 200 missing

Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire as it continues to burn in Malibu, California, U.S., November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

(Reuters) – Fierce, dry winds were expected to fan the flames of deadly wildfires burning in California on Monday, heightening the risk of fresh blazes from scattered embers and making driving conditions difficult.

In the northern part of the state, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said at least 228 people were still missing as of early Monday in the so-called Camp Fire, the state’s most destructive blaze on record, one of two fires raging in the state that have killed at least 31 people.

The Camp Fire, 40 miles northwest of Sacramento, burned down more than 6,700 homes and businesses in the town of Paradise, more structures than any other wildfire recorded in California.

The fire had burned more than 111,000 acres and was 25 percent contained by late Sunday, officials said. Its death toll of 29 now equals that of the Griffith Park Fire in 1933, the deadliest wildfire on record in California.

The fires have been whipped up by hot dry winds expected to continue through Tuesday evening, according to officials.

Wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour (100 km) were expected in the mountains, valleys and canyons of Southern California, raising the possibility of downed power lines and trees. This, in combination with low humidity, was expected to create the perfect conditions for fires to spread.

In southern California, the Woolsey Fire has scorched at least 85,500 acres and destroyed 177 structures. The blaze was only 15 percent contained. At least two people have died in that fire, according to officials from the statewide agency Cal Fire.

The blaze has forced authorities to issue evacuation orders for a quarter million people in Ventura and Los Angeles counties and beachside communities including the Malibu beach colony.

Officials urged residents to heed evacuation orders.

“Winds are already blowing,” Chief Daryl Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department said Sunday. “They are going to blow for the next three days. Your house can be rebuilt, but you can’t bring your life back.”

In a report to California’s utilities regulator, Southern California Edison Company, a unit of Edison International, said it had experienced an outage at a substation in the San Fernando Valley around two minutes before the Woolsey Fire began.

The company said it was submitting its report “out of an abundance of caution as it may meet the subject of significant public attention or media coverage.”

Just last month, PG&E Corp unit Pacific Gas Electric, California’s largest public utility, cut off electric power to about 60,000 customers to prevent wildfires as high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines.

Shares of both PG&E and Edison plummeted on Friday as the wildfires spread.

Governor Jerry Brown has asked U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster to bolster the emergency response and help residents recover.

Trump criticized the California government in Tweets during the weekend, blaming poor forest management for the infernos.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, additional reporting by Stephen Lam in Paradise; Alex Dobuzinskis, Dan Whitcomb and Dana Feldman in Los Angeles, Barbara Goldberg and Jonathan Allen in New York, and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Steve Orlofsky)

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