Evacuations in parts of the Northern California city of Vacaville were underway Wednesday morning as a wildfire — one of dozens burning in the Golden State during a torrid heat wave — tore through the countryside just outside it.
The fire — part of a multifire complex that has burned more than 46,000 acres in three northern Bay Area counties — already has destroyed homes outside Vacaville and sent people fleeing rural areas in the dark of night.
“Practically every single first responder unit in town is actively working to safely notify, evacuate and fight the fires, so our residents are safe,” police in Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 people between San Francisco and Sacramento, said on Twitter.
Overnight, the blaze swept through rural homes and properties outside Vacaville in Solano County. An undetermined number of homes have burned, sheriff’s spokesman Le’Ron Cummings said.
Around 3 a.m. PT there were “numerous locations (outside Vacaville) where people (were) trying to get out,” and rescuers were trying to reach them, a Solano County sheriff’s dispatcher told CNN.
At least 33 fires were burning across Northern California early Wednesday, covering more than 141,000 acres, and more were burning elsewhere in the state. Evacuations were ordered in several counties as the blazes threatened buildings.
The fires come during a historic and brutal multiday heat wave, with nearly 45 million people across the West under an excessive-heat warning or heat advisory Wednesday and temperatures in many places expected to rise above 100 degrees.
Californians are also facing power outages — both intentional and unintentional — as the power grid struggles to keep up with demand.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency Tuesday to deploy resources to “combat fires burning across the state which have been exacerbated by the effects of the historic West Coast heat wave and sustained high winds.”
Fires jump across roads
West of Vacaville, fires jumped across some roads, threatening to make passage difficult. In part of neighboring Napa County, video posted by freelance photojournalist Ethan Swope showed flames right up to the edges of Steele Canyon Road as he drove on it Tuesday night. Smoke made it difficult to see more than a few feet ahead.
A photo from the Associated Press showed a mobile home and a vehicle burning in unincorporated Napa County on Tuesday night. Details about how many structures the fire had burned by early Wednesday weren’t immediately available.
Outside Vacaville, as swept through Thuy Ngo’s 30-acre farm property, he watched Wednesday morning as flames consumed his barn.
He lives elsewhere but bought this property two years ago and was building it up, intending to farm it. The night before, he was there with his wife and two sons watering the land and securing his chickens because he’d seen smoke in the distance.
“We didn’t think the fire would come down here this fast,” he told CNN. “It’s just heart-wrenching. … It’s just gone.”
On Tuesday morning, as flames were approaching Napa County’s 130-year-old Nichelini Family Winery, employees helped firefighters by opening gates and helping them access water, CNN affiliate KPIX reported.
“We’re always prepared for a fire,” owner Phil Sunseri told the station. “We prepare every year. We fire-safe our structures, we prepare our buildings, and when things like this happen, we just execute our plan to keep it as safe and free from fire as we can.”
“The fires can be overwhelming,” he said, “and you just do the best you can.”
Evacuation orders across California
In Monterey County well south of San Jose, evacuations were issued for the Carmel Fire, burning southeast of Carmel Valley Village Tuesday, CNN affiliate KSBW reported. The Carmel Fire has burned about 1,200 acres and had no containment as of Tuesday night,Cal Fire reported.
Late Tuesday, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office announced a mandatory evacuation due to another fire, the River Fire. The River Fire was 7% contained Tuesday night, according to Cal Fire. Both of the fires are in Monterey County, about 90 miles from San Jose, the department said.
California fire officials announced more evacuations late Tuesday night for the state’s largest set of wildfires, the SCU Lightning Complex.
That’s about 20 separate blazes burning in steep, rugged terrain, fueled by the extreme heat and low humidity, according to the department. More than 35,000 acres have been charred and two people have been injured, fire officials said.
And Wednesday temperatures, which fire officials say are expected to rise to the triple digits, will be no help.
“Firefighters look to take advantage of cooler temperatures this evening to build and strengthen containment lines across all zones,” the department said late Tuesday. The fires were about 4% contained Tuesday night.
Evacuation orders have been issued for parts of Alameda County and Contra Costa County.
Tens of thousands of customers without power
Meanwhile, more than 37,000 customers were without power across the state, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) told CNN Tuesday night.
“Extreme heat and electricity demand has caused outages in parts of Los Angeles,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter.
LADWP, the nation’s largest municipal utility with a total of 1.5 million customers in the City of Los Angeles, said approximately 12,000 of those customers were in the dark Tuesday night.
“The outages that we’re experiencing tonight are related to strained equipment in the field, transformers and distributing stations that become overheated which has led to many localized outages,” an LADWP spokesperson said. “Our crews are out there and will make progress overnight.”
Separately, PG&E said 25,717 of their customers are also without power throughout Northern and Central California.
7 heat records broken
With an excessive heat wave across the state, California weather officials said at least seven temperature records were broken.
Burbank beat its previous 1986 record, hitting 109 degrees Fahrenheit Tuesday, while Paso Robles beat a more than 50-year record with a staggering 111 degrees on Tuesday. Camarillo, Long Beach and Woodland Hills were also included in the record-breaking areas.
In a Twitter warning, the National Weather Service said that “summer is hot, but this is different.”
“These are record high temperatures in what is typically one of the hottest times of the year,” the service said. “These are dangerous conditions that should be taken seriously to avoid heat-related illness.”
Historic fire scorching parts of Colorado
California isn’t the only state facing spreading wildfires. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday he’ll be taking executive action to reduce the fire risks across the state, as several wildfires remain out of control.
At least four blazes have already burned through more than 130,000 acres.
The largest, the Pine Gulch Fire, was caused by lightning and has charred through 87,000 acres and was 7% contained as of early Wednesday, officials said.
The Grizzly Creek Fire, at about 28,000 acres, was 4% contained Wednesday morning.