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Wildfires in California and other western states are getting worse every year, but is climate change all to blame? We explain.
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Almost 200,000 homes and businesses across California were without power Thursday and utilities warned that hundreds of thousands more could be in the dark soon as high winds and brittle conditions fueled fast-growing wildfires.

Those fears were being realized in Sonoma County, 75 miles north of San Francisco. The fast-growing Kincade Fire flared up early Thursday and within hours covered more than 15 square miles. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of up to 76 mph, and evacuations were underway in several communities.

“Leave immediately if you are in these locations,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office warned, citing an “extraordinary threat to life or property.”

Cal Fire said two buildings had been damaged, and that structures and powerlines were threatened by the blaze. More than 300 firefighters were on the scene, backed by more than 50 engines and three bulldozers.

Cal Fire spokesperson Jonathan Cox told KTVU-TV that the fire was growing at a “critical rate.” He blamed dry conditions and the ferocious winds.

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Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in parts of Sonoma county, California as the Kincade fire continues to burn thousands of acres.
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“We are in the heart of the fire season right now,” Cox said.

The weather service warned that low relative humidity and gusty winds will continue to lead to dangerous conditions favorable for the spread of wildfires across sections of northern California on Thursday.  

The bulk of the power outages, affecting at least 500,000 people, were in northern and central California, where Pacific Gas & Electric has been warning for days that high winds forecast for the state could result in preemptive power shutoffs. Residents should be ready to be without power for 48 hours or more, the company warned.

“Once the weather subsides and it is safe to do so, PG&E crews will begin patrolling power lines, repairing damaged equipment and restoring customers,” PG&E said. 

That respite might not last long. The company said that another round of strong winds –which the weather service is calling “the strongest wind event so far this fall” – is forecast for Sunday and Monday, which could lead to more preemptive outages. 

The latest wave of outages come two weeks after gusty winds, high temperatures and parched conditions forced PG&E to shut off power to 2 million people, many for several days. That preemptive outage, or Public Safety Power Shutoff, fueled outrage from many residents, but PG&E defends the outages as crucial to the safety of its customers.

Read this: California governor slams PG&E, saying ‘greed,’ ‘mismangement’ led to widespread power cuts

Southern California: Fire in San Bernardino County

Southern California was not immune to the outages, the fire conditions or the fires Thursday. Southern California Edison had cut power to about 15,000 customers early in the day and warned that almost 300,000 more could see preemptive outages.

A fire in San Bernardino County, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, was only about 100 acres, but evacuations were being ordered early Thursday. Citing the outages and fire, California State University, San Bernardino canceled classes Thursday.

The San Bernardino County Fire Department warned the blaze, known as the Old Water Fire, had the “potential for large growth.”

The weather service in Los Angeles warned that due to the forecast of gusty Santa Ana winds both Thursday and Friday, there is “the potential for rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior if ignition occurs.”

California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 and 2018. Fueled by drought, an unprecedented buildup of dry vegetation and extreme winds, the size and intensity of these wildfires caused the loss of more than 100 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and exposed millions to unhealthy air.

Read this: California power lines spark wildfires and prompt blackouts. Why not just bury them?