California: strong winds increase danger of fresh wildfires around the state

Blustery winds surged through California, raising fears of fresh wildfires as red flag warnings of dangerous fire conditions continues in mountains, valleys, canyons and deserts.

At least a half-dozen fires erupted around the state on Monday. Most remained small, but a blaze west of Santa Barbara quickly spread to thousands of acres. The fire burned in dense chaparral through an area of ranches, canyons and parks.

The utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) shut off power to about 21,000 customers in 20 central and northern California counties to reduce the risk that power lines could be toppled and spark wildfires there.

PG&E equipment was blamed for a 2018 fire that wiped out most of the town of Paradise in Butte county, and the company faces numerous criminal charges for fires caused by its fraying infrastructure.

In Santa Barbara, the fire prompted the mandatory evacuation of El Capitan state park along with campsites, cattle and horse ranches near Refugio state beach, and US 101, the only highway along the coast, was closed as the blaze moved south towards the ocean, a US Forest Service spokesman, Andrew Madsen, said.

On the central coast, a tree fell on to power lines at Hearst San Simeon state park, sparking a small fire in the brush. And strong winds knocked down a tree, destroying three parked cars and damaging a home in the coastal town of El Granada, in San Mateo county, CalFire said. However, no injuries were reported.

Winds of 25 mph (40kp/h) with gusts up to 70 mph (112kp/h) were expected into early Tuesday evening. The National Weather Service said blowing dust was widespread from the Sacramento Valley, across the San Joaquin Valley and into the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles.

Windy weather is a nightmare for firefighters in a state where heatwaves and historic drought tied to climate change have left forests and brush tinder-dry. Fires that began in late summer are still burning after destroying hundreds of homes.

In the Sierra Nevada, the so-called KNP Complex fires may have burned hundreds of giant sequoias in groves in Sequoia national park and was only 30% contained. On Monday, a firefighter with a hand crew working on the blaze was struck by a rolling rock. The firefighter was airlifted to a hospital and is in stable condition, fire officials said.

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