Los Angeles mayor says Getty Fire ignited by 'an act of God' when tree branch blew onto power lines

Mark Puleo

As firefighters in Northern California continued battling the flames of the Kincade Fire on Tuesday, a clearer picture was emerging of the devastation caused by the wrath of the inferno. Centuries-old businesses have been damaged or destroyed in Sonoma County as the Kincade Fire continues to rage. Among the 124 structures the blaze has destroyed, the historic Soda Rock Winery is one of the most notable.

"We've seen the news. We are devastated," the company wrote on Facebook. "We don't have much information, but we will update you as soon as we know anything. Our staff is safe -- right now what is most important is the safety of the first responders battling the fire. Thank you everyone for your concern."

Built on the property of vineyards dating back to the mid-1800s, the local landmark was a beloved wine shop, club, tasting room, and special event center for thousands of guests. In the week since the blaze ignited, the Kincade Fire has spread to 76,825 acres, including the property of the 150-year old Soda Rock.

Though less than one-hundredth the size of the Kincade Fire, the Getty Fire has threatened areas of Southern California with equally dangerous potential. Located outside of Los Angeles by the Brentwood and Westside communities, the blaze began along the 405 Freeway on Monday morning and has quickly spread. The fire has completely destroyed 12 residences and damaged five.

Officials report the blaze was likely sparked when a dried tree branch hit a power line. In a press conference, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the ignition of the Getty Fire was 'an act of God.'

"This was, simply put, in plain parlance, an act of God," Garcetti said.

Within just a few hours of ignition, firefighters were forced to go door-to-door to alert residents that they needed to evacuate quickly. Approximately 7,091 residences are in the Mandatory Evacuation Zone. Some of those residents included celebrities like LeBron James and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, in a post on Twitter, praised firefighters as "the true action heroes."

Firefighters work on a house destroyed by a wildfire called the Getty Fire in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

On Monday afternoon, flames crept eerily close to the $3.5 billion Getty Center property, causing concern for many. In a blog posted on its site, the Getty Museum and president Jim Cuno thanked the efforts of first responders.

In the statement, the center said fire crews have used the luxurious center as a rest area and a parking lot for fire trucks.

Due to its unique architecture, construction and property management of the Getty campus, the buildings and property are well prepared to resist a wildfire. This means the millions of dollars of artwork inside the museum can stay put even when everyone outside else evacuates.

Richard Meier, Getty's architect, built features like thick travertine stone onto outside walls and crushed rock on the roofs with fires in mind. According to The New York Times, a carbon-filtered air conditioning system pushes smoke out instead of letting it in, while sprinklers were designed to douse flames but not damage artwork.

"The dedication of our staff and the professionalism of our region's first responders was nothing short of heroic," said Cuno. "We are deeply grateful for their courage and hard work."

To top it all off, flocks of goats are rented each year to "nibble away the flammable brush around its 110-acre hillside campus in Brentwood," the center wrote.

The National Weather Service issued a rare extreme red flag warning due to the significant Santa Ana winds expected from late Tuesday into Thursday.

Strong winds developed Tuesday across Northern California and spread into Southern California from Tuesday night into Wednesday, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Max Gawryla.

"This midweek wind event will be due to a dry cold front moving through California from the north," Gawryla said. "The wind event in Northern California into Wednesday will not be as strong as the weekend event where winds gusted 60-80 mph and even locally higher. However, with fires ongoing, any increase in wind is very dangerous."

Since the Kincade Fire began, nearly 200,000 people have been forced from their homes and over half a million Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) customers are without power as of Tuesday morning.

At just 15% contained, firefighting crews have struggled to battle the rapidly growing blaze. Strong, steady winds have only made that struggle more difficult and after a brief reprieve they will ramp up again.

The blaze pushed its way into Lake County, Napa County and back into Sonoma County on Tuesday morning, triggering evacuation warnings to residents on the eastern side of Sonoma County. No civilian deaths or injuries have been reported, but two first responders were injured battling the blaze. According to Cal Fire, the expected date of full containment is Nov. 7.

On Monday, PG&E reported in a statement that it had restored "approximately 57% of the 970,000 customers who had their power turned off for safety as part of a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) that began October 26."

A firefighter from San Matteo helps fight the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, California. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

"The sole intent of a PSPS is to prevent a catastrophic wildfire sparked by electrical equipment during extreme weather events," the company said in the statement. "Winds generally above 45 mph are known to cause damage to the lower-voltage distribution system and winds above 50 mph are known to cause damage to higher-voltage transmission equipment."

Later in the statement, PG&E added that another PSPS rollout is scheduled for Tuesday, impacting another 605,000 customers in 29 counties.

In Simi Valley, a blaze dubbed the Easy Fire ignited on Tuesday. The fire has rapidly grown to 1,300 acres as of 10 a.m. PDT due to gusty winds in the area. The Venture County Fire Department (VCFD) has reported that mandatory evacuations have been enacted.

The Easy Fire burning near Simi Valley, California, early on Wednesday, Oct. 30. (Photo/Ventura County Fire Department)

The wind-driven fire has forced the closure of State Route 23 in both directions.

The fire continues to creep closer to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, forcing evacuations at the building and drawing VCFD personnel to the location for protection.

According to Nate Johnson, a representative from the Reagan Library said that a flock of goats "is what saved us today," in similar fashion to the Getty Center.

According to the library, about 300 goats are brought in each year to eat flammable vegetation.

While the Reagan Library has been spared, the surrounding region remains under severe threat. According to the VCFD, over 6,500 homes are threatened and road closures are expected to mount.

The other notable blaze in Southern California, the Tick Fire, has been well maintained by crews and was 86% contained as of Tuesday moring. The fire had grown to 3,969 acres in Los Angeles County since igniting on Thursday, Oct. 24.

There is a glimmer of hope across wildfire-ravaged California with a break from the high winds on the near horizon.

Download the free AccuWeather app to see the latest forecast for your region. Keep checking back for updates on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.