Flames burn from a destroyed home’s natural gas line during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S. (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

California Wildfires Force Thousands to Evacuate; Five Dead

(Bloomberg) -- Fanned by hot, dry winds, wildfires north of San Francisco and near Los Angeles have forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people in the state, including Malibu, the coastal enclave of the rich and famous.

The fires cover about 84,000 acres overall and threaten to destroy tens of thousands of structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 50,000 homes and business have lost power, and the shares of the state’s two biggest utilities, PG&E Corp. and Edison International, have plummeted. Five people were killed, according to the Associated Press.

State officials are investigating electrical equipment as one of several possible causes of the fire in the north, said Scott McLean, a spokesman for Cal Fire, in an interview. State investigators last year linked equipment owned by PG&E to 17 fires in the state.

California Wildfires Force Thousands to Evacuate; Five Dead

Shares of utility owners fell the most since December. PG&E., which provides electricity in Northern California, lost as much as 15 percent. Edison International, which serves much of the southern part of the state, dropped as much as 12 percent.

PG&E didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Southern California Edison said it has no indication for the cause of the fire in Ventura, spokesman Robert Laffoon-Villegas said in an emailed statement.

In Southern California, two separate fires have consumed about 18,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In Malibu -- which has been home to Hollywood stars including Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman -- flames leaped over the U.S. 101 freeway to threaten some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Portions of the community have been evacuated, according to Los Angeles County Fire officials.

California Wildfires Force Thousands to Evacuate; Five Dead

The Ventura blaze comes the same week a gunman opened fire in a crowded country music bar in the county, killing 12. "Many of our first responders haven’t slept," Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks said during a news conference in Thousand Oaks, where the shooting took place. "We are still reeling, but we are also very resilient."

Meanwhile, decreasing winds in Northern California are lowering risk that a fire burning near Chico, which has already torched about 70,000 acres, will continue to spread. Still, the blaze forced residents to evacuate from several towns in an area about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.

Smoke from that fire stretched into San Francisco, prompting warnings from officials about outdoor activities and closing schools in parts of the Bay Area region. The air quality index in the area was forecast to be an unhealthy 124 Friday, worse than notoriously smoggy Beijing.

California Wildfires Force Thousands to Evacuate; Five Dead

PG&E is still struggling to cope with losses from last year’s deadly fires that could cost it as much as $17.3 billion in liabilities, according to a JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate. Investors are waiting on the state’s investigation into the Tubbs fire, the deadliest of the 2017 wine country fires.

California Wildfires Force Thousands to Evacuate; Five Dead

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