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New California Wildfire Grows To Over 8,000 Acres Overnight

Photo caption:

Photo by Noah Berger AP

Firefighters battle the Maria Fire in California's Ventura County. The blaze has engulfed more than 8,000 acres.

Updated at 5:33 p.m. ET

Mandatory evacuations for about 8,000 people in the Los Angeles area are in place after a wildfire began late Thursday before quickly spreading overnight. The Maria Fire is the latest addition to California's busy 2019 fire season.

In a press conference at noon local time, officials said the fire had grown to burn nearly 9,000 acres. The fire started on Thursday at 6:14 p.m. local time affecting 750 acres within an hour. However, it spread overnight to encompass more than 8,000 acres.

As of Friday afternoon, the fire was completely uncontained. Authorities said Friday that about 2,300 structures had been threatened by the wildfire. Early efforts to contain the fire had been complicated by a civilian drone.

"Earlier this evening, our firefighting aerial efforts were hampered by someone flying an unmanned aerial system in the area," said Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub. "This created quite a dangerous situation. Not only is it illegal, but it hampers our firefighting efforts."

Several schools and roads have been closed as a result of the fire, member station KCLU reports. Officials said they were hopeful that the fire wouldn't grow any larger than 12,000 acres, thanks to a change in wind conditions and cooler weather.

The Maria Fire is one of two wildfires in Ventura County. The smaller Easy Fire broke out Wednesday and has burned more than 1,800 acres. The fire department says they that fire is 80% contained.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles to the north, firefighters have 65% containment around the massive Kincade Fire, which has been active since last week and has consumed more than 77,000 acres; 352 structures have been destroyed, but no fatalities have been reported. Fire officials don't expect to fully contain the blaze until Nov. 7.

Earlier this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency because of several fires and extreme weather conditions.

The last half of October saw several destructive fires break out across California, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate their homes. Smoke has caused large cities, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, to issue hazardous air quality alerts.

To prevent the spread of more wildfires, the utility company Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to customers in Northern California, affecting more than 1.8 million people. Newsom criticized the utility giant for mismanaging the blackouts and for its role in previous California wildfires.

"We've had a decade-plus of mismanagement of our largest investor-owned utility, PG&E; — greed and complete dismissal of public safety," Newsom told NPR earlier this week. "And as a consequence of that lack of investment, they've got a grid that is not modern."

Paolo Zialcita is an intern on NPR's News Desk.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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