Dying winds ease after weeks of wildfires in California

WINDSOR: Lynn Darst and her husband camped in their mobile home on the edge of their seats for four days wondering if their house would survive another forest fire that threatened Sonoma County.

The flames had approached their neighborhood of spacious houses surrounded by vineyards two years ago and the danger was closing again.

We were comfortable, but afraid of what the consequences might be, Darst said Thursday, the day after his home had been saved once again.

Darst was among the almost 200,000 residents who were allowed to return to their homes even when the fire burned along with several other fires in the state. They were the lucky ones: at least 140 houses had been destroyed in the Sonoma fire.

The fire was the largest that burned during a three-week siege of vicious bursts that fueled rapid-moving forest fires in California and led utility companies to cut off the power supply to millions to prevent winds from blowing branches in Power lines and light a hell.

Winds decreased in almost all parts of the state on Thursday and forecasters anticipated at least a week of calm weather, although there was no rain in the forecast that reduced the threat of falling fires.

The most devastating forest fires in California's history occurred in the last two years in the fall, fueled by a combination of accumulated weeds, dry conditions and extreme winds. The anniversary of the deadliest of those, last year's fire that set the city of Paradise on fire and killed 85, is next week.

The state experienced a humid winter with a large layer of snow and wind temperatures and speeds did not increase simultaneously during the summer, which has led to a less destructive fire season overall.

The area burned this year has decreased almost 90% over last year and 80% below the five-year average over the same period, according to figures compiled until Sunday by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

However, moisture has boosted the explosive growth of pastures that have now become golden and brown tinder.

Virtually without rain in October and gusts of erratic winds, fires erupted throughout the state, forcing residents to flee their homes at all hours while the flames burned barns, sheds, mobile homes and multimillion-dollar mansions indiscriminately.

Conan O'Brien, Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James evacuated hillside property in Los Angeles, while farmworkers were expelled from their homes in the wine country of Sonoma County, where the fire swept through the historic Soda Rock Winery .

The causes of the fires have been equally diverse.

The fire that destroyed dozens of trailers in the Villa Calimesa mobile home park east of Los Angeles and killed two people started when a garbage truck threw a load of burning garbage that spread to the grass and was quickly hit by the winds.

A fire that occurred Thursday in the Jurupa Valley, not far from Calimesa, was caused when two of the quintessential themes of Southern California - car chases and winds from Santa Ana - collided when a hot car stopped at a field and lit dry herbs.

Forest fires occurred even when many were in the darkness of intentional cuts.

In places where energy continued, utility lines and other electrical equipment were suspected or confirmed as the cause of several fires, including Sonoma, another that began on a hillside above the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and one That burned the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Wednesday.

More than 350,000 people across the state remained without power on Thursday, mostly in southern California, where winds were not expected to die until sunset.

Pacific Gas&Electric Co. workers in northern California were inspecting power lines and working to restore power.

Winds were blowing at a speed of up to 60 mph (96 kph) early Thursday when two fires broke out in the densely populated inland region east of Los Angeles.

The fire started by the stolen car burned three houses and forced residents to flee temporarily.

Another early morning fire in San Bernardino destroyed six houses and forced some 1,300 people to evacuate, but they were allowed to return home later. The cause was under investigation.

While the fires are not extinguished, progress was heading in the right direction, said Scott Ross, a CalFire spokesperson.

The result in Sonoma was better than expected, considering that 80,000 homes had been threatened and evacuations spread to the coast.

Now is the time to clean this up and turn it off, Ross said.

The fire burned 120 square miles (311 square kilometers) and was contained in 60%,

Residents whose homes were still standing were relieved and grateful for the firefighters who had been fighting for more than a week.

Nancy Lang, co-owner of Safari West, an exotic Santa Rosa reserve that was in the evacuation zone, stayed with employees to care for animals that include giraffes, zebras, rhinos and cheetahs.

This fire was extremely erratic. He jumped from one place to another. We never knew minute by minute what was going to happen, Lang said. We are giving a great sigh of relief and we are very happy that this is coming to an end.

Brenda Catelani, who lives in the same neighborhood of Windsor as Darst, drowned as she remembered driving home with her husband on Wednesday and finding bits of embers in her yard, burnt leaves and ashes.

The fire occurred less than 500 yards (457 meters) from his home, closer to one of the fires in the 2017 wine region that killed 44 people and destroyed 8,900 houses and other buildings in Sonoma and Napa counties.

I think when we left, and especially on Sunday, we didn't think we would come back, Catelani said.