California Fires Update: Thousands of Homes Threatened

Around midnight, police officers drove through Frank Cruz’s neighborhood near Santa Clarita, blaring sirens and announcing that all residents must leave, as high winds were fanning a quickly moving brush fire.

By Friday morning, Mr. Cruz, and his wife, Cindy, who is seven months pregnant, were waking up in their car, in the parking lot of a Denny’s. Ms. Cruz, who has lived in the area for more than a decade and had never been forced to evacuate for a fire, said she thought there were so many evacuations because of an abundance of caution.

After last year’s deadly fire season in California, she said, people “aren’t taking any chances.”

With the Paradise Fire in Northern California claiming more than 80 lives last year, and the Woolsey Fire tearing a destructive path through Malibu and its environs, this year everyone — power companies, fire and law enforcement agencies, residents — is extra cautious. The authorities seem to be quicker to order evacuations at the first sign of fire.

And residents, who in past years may have shrugged off evacuation orders, preferring to remain home and, if necessary, protect their houses, are heeding orders. They are readying their cars, packing them with valuables, just in case they get the order.

“I think people are listening more,” said Mary Lindsey, 64, who on Friday morning was eating breakfast at a Red Cross center in a gymnasium at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita. “In the past there’d be evacuation orders and people would blow them off. After last year, they aren’t doing that.”

Ms. Lindsey’s husband, Charles, said the fire started in a canyon near their home and quickly burned through dry shrub land that had grown during the heavy rains earlier this year.

“With the winds blowing, it moved fast,” said Mr. Lindsey, 68, his dog Ivy at his feet. “In the middle of the night, if you’re told to go, you go.”