California wildfires rage out of control

Wildfires killed two firefighters and turned hills around Los Angeles into fiery orange infernos, threatening thousands of homes.

The two died south of the town of Acton when their vehicle went off the road and rolled down a mountain slope, said Mike Bryant, a fire department spokesperson.

“Our hearts are heavy as we are tragically reminded of the sacrifices our firefighters and their families make daily to keep us safe,” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

One fire, about 30km long, was burning out of control along a ridge in a populated area north of Los Angeles. The US Forest Service said the blaze had destroyed more than 14 000 hectares.

And by late on Sunday the fire in Angeles National Forest approached a solar observatory and television transmission towers on Mount Wilson, The Los Angeles Times reported citing county fire officials.

Crews cleared brush around the structures, but fire officials had doubts about leaving personnel on the mountain because of limited escape routes, the Times reported.

Schwarzenegger visited the Los Angeles County fire station for a briefing on the firefighting efforts across the state and encourage thousands battling the blazes, which threaten more than 12 000 homes and other buildings, including 500 businesses.

Authorities have ordered communities in Crown Valley, Soledad Canyon and Aliso Canyon to evacuate, according to media reports.

The flames of the main fire particularly threatened Acton, a community of 3 000 on the north side of the San Gabriel Range.

“California has the best and bravest firefighters on the front lines protecting our residents,” Schwarzenegger said.

“I am confident California has emergency response resources in place to ensure the heroic men and woman fighting these fires have the resources they need. We are proud to provide access to any state resources needed to the US Forest Service while they battle the Station fire.”

The massive operation has sent more than 6 458 firefighters into action as well as a DC-10 that dumps water on the blaze from above.

On Saturday three people were injured and evacuated, and at least three homes destroyed by the fire in Big Tujunga Canyon.

“Listen carefully—there were again people that did not listen and people that got burned and really badly injured because they did not listen,” Schwarzenegger warned.

So far 4 000 homes have been evacuated, mostly in Acton, La Canada-Flintridge, Altadena and La Crescenta, as well as in Glendale, a near-in Los Angeles suburb.

The US Forest Service has warned that the possibility of fires spreading is extreme.

The San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles has experienced record heat and low humidity, with temperatures soaring above 38 degrees Celsius in the hottest locations, the National Weather Service said in its red flag warning for the region.

Schwarzenegger declared states of emergency in Los Angeles and Monterey counties on Friday in response to the wildfires.

A key factor in the fires’ spread is that the areas most at risk are covered with vegetation that has not experienced fire for some four decades, making it even more susceptible to the blaze.

California, the most populous US state, is frequently hit by wildfires and in 2007 suffered the worst blazes in its history, which forced the evacuation of 640 000 residents and destroyed about 2 000 homes in southern California.—AFP


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