Wind-driven Southern California wildfires prompt mass evacuations, injure 2 firefighters

No property losses were immediately reported. But two firefighters among an estimated 500 personnel battling flames with bulldozers and hand tools were hospitalized with severe burns, authorities said.

A second Orange County blaze, the Blueridge fire, later broke near Yorba Linda and has charred roughly 1,200 acres (485 hectares), Nguyen said. Local television news footage showed at least one home gutted by flames.

Utility company Southern California Edison reported shutting off electricity to 21,000 homes and businesses in the region as a precautionary measure in the face of elevated fire risks posed by dangerously high winds.

Hundreds of miles away, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said it had cut off power to more than 350,000 of its customers for the same reason.

Wind-damaged electrical lines have been implicated in causing dozens of devastating California wildfires in recent years, and utilities have increasingly resorted to such “public safety power shutoffs” to reduce the risk.

Winds were clocked at up to 89 mph in Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco Bay, and were steadily blowing at more than 50 mph elsewhere through the region.

By midday Monday, PG&E said it was beginning to restore electrical service to some customers “where it is safe to do so,” with most of the shutoffs expected to be ended by Tuesday night as winds abated, the utility said in a statement.

The latest outbreak of fires capped a summer of record California wildfire activity stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, drought, wind and dry lightning storms that scientists point to as a consequence of climate change. (Reporting by Mimi Dwyer and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler, Bill Tarrant and Lincoln Feast.)

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