Firefighters raced through raging fires in Napa County Tuesday to save families as more than 30 wildfires scorched more than 120,000 acres across California, PG&E warned of blackouts, and 42 million people were put under heat warnings as temperatures topped 115 degrees.
Terrifying footage showed firefighters driving along Berryessa Knoxville Road in Napa on a rescue mission as the LNU Lightning Complex Fire raged on around the vehicle and was zero percent contained.
Heavy smoke billowed into the air and angry orange flames destroyed homes and burned down trees as the state continued to be ravaged by more than 30 wildfires, some caused by extreme lightning storms.
In wine country north of San Francisco, blazes sent residents fleeing their homes in Sonoma County and Napa County.
Evacuations were also in effect to the north and east of the San Francisco Bay Area, near Salinas in Monterey County, around Oroville Dam north of Sacramento, in remote Mendocino County and near the Nevada state line north of Lake Tahoe.
Hours later, dozens of homes in the Spanish Flat area of Napa were destroyed as the LNU Lightning Complex Fire burned out of control and engulfed the properties in flames.
The area’s famous vineyards were also ablaze.
Fire crews continued to battle the blaze into the night but with resources stretched thin, they are little match for the ever-erratic fire.
Over in Los Angeles, 1.5 million people were without power at around 9 p.m. local time, caused by heat-related outages, The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Tuesday night.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted that crews were working to restore power to homes as soon as possible but it could take up to 12 hours.
This came just hours after Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Tuesday as more than 120,000 acres of land has been destroyed and air quality plunges to dangerously low levels.
‘California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions,’ Newsom said as he warned residents the next 48 hours is critical.
The governor applauded industries, business and residents for driving down energy usage Monday but warned that temperatures and energy demands will remain high into Wednesday as the state swelters under a heat dome.
‘We’re in a critical 48-hour period, critical period this evening and we’re doing everything in our power to understand the root causes of this,’ and to mitigate future rolling blackouts, he said.
The state’s power grid operator California ISO pleaded with residents and businesses to continue conserving energy to avoid rolling blackouts – after the first were issued in the state in almost 20 years Friday.
The state’s three biggest utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – turned off power to more than 410,000 homes followed by a second outage impacting about 200,000 homes the next day.
Scorching weather has hit other Western states, making it harder for California to import extra power.
California’s power grid operators were keeping an eye on the thermometer Tuesday after avoiding highly anticipated rolling blackouts a day earlier.
One of the highest temperatures recorded on Tuesday stood at 115F in Paso Robles.
The California ISO had warned Monday that as many as 3.3 million homes and businesses would be affected by an evening emergency order that would have required utilities to stage rotating, two-hour outages.
But the order never was issued and the warning was canceled shortly before 8pm.
California ISO has struggled to reduce the electrical demand since last Friday, when it issued the first rolling blackouts in nearly 20 years.
Pleas for people to leave their air conditioners at higher temperatures and avoid using washing machines and other major appliances seemed to have worked. ‘Thank you for conserving,’ California ISO said in a tweet.
However, grid managers warned that the threat of outages remained as temperatures were expected to hit triple digits again in many areas of the state.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said it may take until Friday or Saturday before excess heat watches and warnings ease.
The strong ridge of high pressure responsible for the heat wave will gradually weaken over coming days, progressively moderating temperatures, forecasters said.
Meanwhile, firefighters have been toiling in oppressive heat as fires burned throughout the state, with most of them in Northern California.
Firefighters are battling the largest fire, dubbed the Loyalton Fire, in the Tahoe National Forest. So far, it has burned more than 39,000 acres and is 10 per cent contained.
Officials said 11 structures, including five homes, have been destroyed in the fire.
The second largest blaze is the Apple Fire. It has burned more than 33,000 acres since it started on July 31. It is 95 per cent contained.
Firefighters are also battling the River Fire that has threatened at least 1,500 structures as it burned across 3,800 acres.
Newsom signed an emergency proclamation Sunday allowing some energy users and utilities to tap backup energy sources.
Newsom also sent a letter demanding that the state Energy Commission, state Public Utilities Commission and the California Independent System Operator investigate the blackouts.
‘These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,’ Newsom wrote. ‘This cannot stand.’
On Monday, the Democratic governor said he was ready to ‘move forward to simply make sure this never happens again’.
During a grid operator board meeting Monday, Berberich said the weekend blackouts could have been avoided had regulators listened to its previous concerns about a power shortfall.
In a call later with reporters, he softened his tone, saying he knows the Public Utilities Commission is working to find the right balance of energy sources.
‘It’s substantial, no question about it,’ he said of the outage.
The Public Utilities Commission said it would work with the other agencies to figure out what happened.
The demand for electricity in the last few days has been consistent with expectations, spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said.
‘The question we’re tackling is why certain resources were not available,’ she said.