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Bond Fire forces evacuations in southern California as region braces for extreme fire weather


Already on Thursday, the wind-driven Bond Fire in Orange County has burned 3,650 acres, according to the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA). The blaze started late Wednesday as a structure fire that quickly moved into nearby vegetation in Silverado Canyon.

The OCFA said about 500 firefighters are battling the blaze, and helicopters will be launched as well. The fire has prompted mandatory evacuations in several areas near the canyon, which is about 15 miles east-northeast of Irvine.

Elsewhere, firefighters in Riverside County are trying to get the upper hand on the Airport Fire in Corona. The 105-acre vegetation fire temporarily prompted warnings earlier Thursday which have since been lifted. Highway 71 is closed in both directions from Highway 91 to Highway 83.

Riverside firefighters are also battling the Nuevo Fire in the community of Nuevo. The vegetation fire started overnight, stretches 200 acres and is just 10% contained.

This year’s extreme conditions have tested the limits of fire authorities, who have now battled five of the six largest wildfires in California state history, and for the millions of residents who have endured them.

California’s wildfire season typically runs from July through November, but officials warn that the weather pattern in progress is a spitting image of ones that scorched millions of acres this summer and urge residents to stay vigilant over the coming days.

Particularly dangerous fire weather

Bruce McDougal watches embers fly over his property as the Bond Fire burns through the Silverado community in Orange County, Calif., on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

It’s a “particularly dangerous situation,” the National Weather Service (NWS) in Los Angeles said Wednesday night. That’s a rare designation, even by Southern California standards.

The unusual duration of critical fire weather, extremely dry vegetation and an even drier air mass has created a tinderbox of sorts in parts of the state.

On Thursday, Santa Clarita Valley and the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles County are at the heart of the threat zone, with winds forecast to gust up to 70 mph and widespread humidity as low as 4%.

The region also happens to be the hottest in the continental US this week after highs climbed to 85 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Given the environmental conditions, the NWS warns that any fire will spread rapidly, with long-range “spotting” of 1 to 3 miles possible. Spotting is a phenomenon in which firebrands (flying embers) are transported by winds, allowing additional spot fires to develop several miles downwind.

Power shutoffs for over 100 thousand people

Given the fire risk, utility companies in California have preemptively shut off power to at least 123,000 customers. The shutoffs are meant to keep the electrical system from igniting more fires in the event of downed power lines in dry conditions, through a program called Public Safety Power Shutoff.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) shut off power to about 73,000 customers on Thursday morning and warned another nearly 22,000 customers their power could be turned off.

And on Wednesday night, Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE) preemptivly shut off power to 617 customers in Kern County.

In addition, Southern California Edison (SCE) reported that it turned off power to 49,000 customers and warned another about 247,000 theirs could be shutoff, too.

A power company's electrical equipment started one of the most destructive fires in California history
“We understand that having your power turned off is a hardship, especially in the middle of a pandemic and when most folks are at home. We are working to limit the number of customers who are shutoff due to Public Safety Power Shutoffs,” Vik Trehan, SCE director and incident commander, said in a statement Tuesday.

This week’s fierce Santa Ana winds have prompted the NWS to place nearly 18 million Californians under high wind alerts and red flag warnings, some through Saturday evening.

Although roughly 80% of Los Angeles’ annual rainfall occurs between the months of December to March, with the recent onset of a La Niña pattern in place, the winter outlook for the state looks grim. Long-term forecasts suggest both a warmer and drier winter in the months ahead.

CNN’s Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

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