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Evacuations Mount in Southern California as Wildfire Spreads

Christopher Martin, Brian K. Sullivan and Nic Querolo

(Bloomberg) -- A wildfire that erupted near Los Angeles has forced up to 8,000 people to flee as the tail end of a powerful windstorm takes its final swing at Southern California.

The blaze in Ventura County has ripped through almost 9,000 acres and threatens 2,300 structures, according to local authorities. Edison International has cut power to 625 nearby homes and businesses to prevent live wires from toppling and sparking more infernos.

“We are in the middle of a big fight,” Ventura County Fire Department Chief Mark Lorenzen said during a news conference. “The end is not yet in sight.”

The Maria fire, in the hills above Camarillo, comes as California recovers from a wildfire season that’s upended much of the state. Utilities have cut electricity to millions of people from Sacramento to San Diego, in some cases for days at a clip, as some of the strongest winds in a decade ripped over power lines and drove flames across hillsides and vineyards.

Southern California Edison said it had re-energized a power line shortly before the start of the Maria fire. The utility had shut power in the area before that due to high winds.

It has filed a report related to the fire with the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, which it is required to do if its equipment may be involved with certain events, spokeswoman Susan Cox said in a telephone interview. The exact origin of the fire is unknown, Cox said.

Edison shares rose 4.3% at the close Friday, the biggest gain in three months.

The new outbreak underscores that wildfire season -- which runs through December -- still poses a dire threat. While the fierce winds have ebbed in most of the state, gusts in Los Angeles and Ventura counties were raging up to 35 miles (56 kilometers) per hour Friday, according to the National Weather Service. No rain is forecast for a week, and the chance of blazes remains high.

“It is winding down out there, but there continues to be very dry conditions,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. “Unfortunately it remains very dry, so they are not getting a break as far as that goes.”

The state’s largest utility, PG&E Corp., staged four massive blackouts in October to prevent wildfires. It has restored service to almost all of the 1.1 million customers impacted in its most recent outage.

PG&E’s equipment sparked wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018, saddling it with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities and eventually forcing it into bankruptcy. It’s strategy of preemptive outages this year has drawn anger from customers and state lawmakers who say they’ve gone too far.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday blasted PG&E for its handling of a series of the blackouts, saying they highlighted the company’s “culture of ineptitude – a behemoth that was slow to act and resistant to change.”

As firefighters have contained once-raging blazes in Northern California, PG&E shares had their best week since the company filed for bankruptcy, rising 29%.

Traditionally, the wildfire season doesn’t end until storms coming off the Pacific Ocean drench California’s lowlands with rains and its mountains with snow.

The Kincade fire north of San Francisco that burned nearly 78,000 acres was 68% contained Friday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

(Adds comments from Edison in fifth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Mark Chediak, David R. Baker and Michael B. Marois.

To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Martin in New York at cmartin11@bloomberg.net;Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net;Nic Querolo in New York at jquerolo1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lynn Doan at ldoan6@bloomberg.net, Joe Ryan, Reg Gale

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