MT. SAINT HELENA, Calif. - The winds were howling throughout California into Monday morning with peak gusts clocking in at 89 mph north of San Francisco on top of Mount St. Helena in Sonoma County.
By early Monday winds had calmed slightly, while still topping 60 mph in some areas, the National Weather Service said.
In Oakland, the winds were gusting at 50 mph, Mt. Tam was at 44 mph and Crissy Field in San Francisco was at 32 mph.
As a preventive measure, Pacific Gas and Electric turned off power to about 1 million customers in 36 counties, including 133,000 in the Bay Area. Officials extended a red flag warning through 5 p.m. Tuesday for East and North Bay mountain areas.
The power shutoffs might have helped. There were no major wildfires reported overnight, although there were smaller spot fires and downed trees that crews were able to quickly deal with.
The power safety shutoff was the fifth time this year that Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest utility, has cut power to customers in a bid to reduce the risk that downed or fouled power lines or other equipment could ignite a blaze during bone-dry weather conditions and gusty winds. The concern is that any spark could be blown into flames sweeping through tinder-dry brush and forestland.
Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable. Traditionally October and November are the worst months for fires, but already this year the state has seen more than 8,600 wildfires that have scorched a record 6,400 square miles and destroyed about 9,200 homes, businesses and other structures. There have been 31 deaths.
Many of this year’s devastating fires were started by thousands of dry lightning strikes, but some remain under investigation for potential electrical causes. While the biggest fires in California have been fully or significantly contained, more than 5,000 firefighters remain committed to 20 blazes, including a dozen major incidents, state fire officials said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.