With Whipping Winds and Power Down, Californians Flee Fires

Power outages and fires combined over the weekend to push the state’s disaster response capabilities to the brink.

By Lauren Hepler, Jose A. Del Real and Ivan Penn

PETALUMA, Calif. — Erika Rivas could not sleep. The smell of smoke and the fear of encroaching flames kept pulling her back to that day two years ago when she realized her home in Santa Rosa was on fire. That night, she and her family fled their new house with no shoes or jackets.

This weekend, amid overlapping crises of fire and blackouts, they have had to evacuate not once but twice.

On Saturday, they moved from a rental home in Windsor into the house in Santa Rosa they are still rebuilding. Twelve hours later, at around 4 a.m., they again fled. “It’s been like hell,” Ms. Rivas, 37, said. “We had no water, no power, no anything.”

Worry gave way to panic across a huge swath of Northern California, as officials ordered more people to leave because of the Kincade fire, bringing the number of residents under mandatory evacuation to 180,000. The evacuations came as the state’s largest utility cut power to as many as 2.7 million people, the largest intentional blackout in California history.

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