Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 November 2019

Tens of thousands evacuated as California wildfires rage

Dozens of homes and buildings have been destroyed as firefighters in the state battle ‘dynamic’ fires driven by dry conditions

Much of California was on high alert on Friday as wind-driven wildfires tore through the state's south, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and destroying multiple structures and homes.

Fire officials said an 89-year-old woman died in Calimesa, about 70 miles (115 kilometres) east of Los Angeles, when fire swept through a trailer park overnight after the driver of a garbage truck that caught fire dumped his burning load nearby.

Another man in his 50s died on Thursday night from cardiac arrest as he spoke with firefighters battling the so-called Saddleridge brush fire in the San Fernando Valley, about 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, fire officials said.

This satellite image from the uS National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a plume of smoke from the Saddleridge wildfire streaming out over the Pacific Ocean on Friday morning. AP
This satellite image from the uS National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a plume of smoke from the Saddleridge wildfire streaming out over the Pacific Ocean on Friday morning. AP

That fire grew from 60 acres (24 hectares) to 7,500 by midday, prompting evacuation orders for more than 100,000 people.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas said the blaze that started late on Thursday in the city of Sylmar was being fuelled by dry conditions and high winds known as the Santa Ana winds.

"This is a very dynamic fire, Mr Terrazas told a news conference.

"Do not wait to leave," he urged residents. "If we ask you to evacuate, please evacuate."

He said some 1,000 firefighters were fighting the blaze that was 13 per cent contained by the early afternoon and had forced the shutdown of several major highways. The metro line in the area was also shut as were schools and businesses.

At least 25 buildings have been destroyed by the blaze, the cause of which has not been determined.

"We've calculated that the fire is moving at a rate of 800 acres per hour," Mr Terrazas said, adding that it would probably take days to get it under control.

Some 200 firefighters, water-dropping helicopters and firefighting aircraft were meanwhile battling several blazes, including one that tore through a trailer park in Riverside County.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but authorities ordered some homes in the area be evacuated.

The US National Weather Service said it expects the high winds fanning the flames to subside by Friday evening, making it easier for firefighters.

A red flag warning - which indicates ripe conditions for wildfires - remains in effect through Saturday.

"That seems to be the new normal in California," lamented Sylmar resident Oscar Mancillas, as he helplessly watched the flames spread in the hillside near his home.

"I mean the vegetation is so dry... but we're kind of lucky because it didn't grow back from the last fire," he told AFP.

"In California you have to be earthquake ready and you have to be fire ready... and for those of us who have a family, it's a little daunting sometimes.”

Updated: October 12, 2019 10:16 AM

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