Hundreds evacuated as wildfire fueled by monster winds races through Sonoma County

(CNN) — A raging wildfire forced the evacuation of hundreds of people after it exploded to thousands of acres in Northern California, authorities said.

The Kincade Fire, ignited Wednesday night, has scorched 7,000 acres, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said. It started at 9 p.m. (midnight ET) and grew to thousands of acres within three hours, Sgt. Juan Valencia said.

As the fire burned, wind gusts of up to 76 mph occurred nearby, the National Weather Service said.

More than 550 homes — containing about 1,700 residents — are under mandatory evacuation orders as the blaze burns uncontrollably, Sonoma County said. Additional evacuations may be issued as the fire grows.

In addition to hundreds of homes, the River Rock Casino has been asked to evacuate, along with additional areas east of Geyserville, the sheriff’s office said. The American Red Cross has set up two evacuation centers in response to the fire.

The fire erupted the same day that California’s largest utility started another round of intentional power cuts to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.

The latest blackouts started Wednesday and will affect parts of 17 counties that include wine country Sonoma at least through Thursday afternoon.

Red flag warnings are in place for more than 25 million people in Northern and Southern California, which means soaring temperatures, low humidity and strong winds will increase fire dangers.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office tweeted a video of the fast-moving blaze and warned residents to be careful. “This is why we issued evacuation orders. Be safe, Sonoma County,” it said.

In October 2017, the Tubbs Fire ravaged tens of thousands of acres in Sonoma County and killed nearly two dozen people. In Santa Rosa alone, a fire wiped out thousands of homes in the city roughly 50 miles northwest of San Francisco.

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