Friday, November 22

Tens of thousands evacuated as California wildfires rage

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A firefighting helicopter works the Saddleridge Fire near Porter Ranch, California. — AFP photo

LOS ANGELES: Wind-driven wildfires forced the evacuation of about 100,000 people in southern California Friday and destroyed dozens of structures and homes as authorities warned it could take days to extinguish the flames.

By Friday evening, the strongest blaze, dubbed the Saddleridge Fire, had consumed 3,052 hectares in areas of the San Fernando Valley, 32 kilometres north of downtown Los Angeles, fire officials said.

They added that it had damaged or destroyed at least 31 structures and was 13 per cent contained as of Friday evening.

One man in his 50s died of a heart attack as he struggled to save his home in the Porter Ranch area, fire officials said.

The fire quickly got out of control after it erupted late Thursday for unknown reasons in the city of Sylmar, driven by low humidity and gusts known as the Santa Ana winds.

“This is a very dynamic fire,” Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas told a news conference.

“Do not wait to leave,” he urged residents.

He said some 1,000 firefighters, backed by water-dropping helicopters and planes releasing fire retardants, were battling the blaze that forced the shutdown of several major highways.

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

Some 200 firefighters were meanwhile battling several other blazes in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, including one that tore through a trailer park and was started by burning trash. That blaze destroyed 76 homes and buildings and killed an 89-year-old woman. — AFP