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California fire danger grows with strong winds in forecast

December 6, 2020 GMT

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Fire danger in California will ramp up on Monday as forecasted strong winds in Southern California, the Bay Area and parts of the Sierra Nevada has utility companies considering turning off electricity for thousands of customers.

The National Weather Service is predicting gusts of up to 60 mph (97 kph) for the San Francisco Bay Area early Monday. The strongest winds will be in the hills but could drop down to lower elevations along the coastline from Sonoma County to San Mateo County.

In the Sierra Nevada and Kern County mountains, a red flag warning will be in place starting at 4 a.m. for an area that includes Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park and National Forest and Lake Isabella. Sustained winds of up to 25 mph (40 kph) are predicted, with gusts of near 55 mph (89 kph) are possible in higher elevations.

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The high winds could potentially knock down power lines and start wildfires. Pacific Gas and Electric said Friday it was considering preemptively shutting off the power for about 132,000 customers. On Sunday, the company reduced that to 8,500 customers in portions of five counties: Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, Tulare and Tuolumne. If necessary, the shutoffs would begin at 5 a.m.

In Los Angeles, winds are expected to begin late Sunday night and continue through Tuesday evening. The winds should be their strongest Monday afternoon through Tuesday morning, with gusts up to 55 mph (89 kph) for the coastal and valley areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Southern California Edison said it was considering shutting off power for about 161,000 customers on Monday and Tuesday in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Tulare and Kern counties.

Firefighters in Orange County had contained about half of a wildfire on Sunday that has destroyed 28 structures while threatening thousands of homes. Fire officials on Sunday said evacuation orders for the Bond Fire in eastern Orange County were being reduced to warnings, allowing all residents to return to their homes.

But they warned that strong winds were forecast for the coming days and urged residents not to wait for authorities to tell them to evacuate if they feel they should leave.

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This story has been updated to correct the potential start time of the PG&E power shutoff to 5 a.m. Monday, not 10 p.m.