California wildfire spreads

  • 19/06/2016
Fire crews attend the fire at El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara, California (Reuters)
Fire crews attend the fire at El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara, California (Reuters)

A wildfire fed by parched land and high winds has spread in Southern California, prompting hundreds of people to evacuate their homes as the blaze formed destructive columns of flames known as fire tornadoes.

The so-called Sherpa Fire in Santa Barbara County, about 145km northwest of Los Angeles, had burned through about 3,100 hectares by midday on Saturday (local time), officials said.

Firefighters increased containment after early evening "sundowner winds" that can whip through the area's coastal canyons did not emerge overnight on Friday (local time).

"We had a very good night last night," Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson told a news conference, adding "we've had no life loss, no major injuries and no major structural loss."

More than 1200 firefighters have been dispatched to battle the flames being fuelled by dry chaparral and grass in coastal canyons about 32km northwest of the affluent city of Santa Barbara.

"Now is the time to gather your family members, pets and important documents in case you need to leave quickly," the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office warned people living in areas threatened by the fire.

The fire broke out on Wednesday and has been expanding since then. Possible sundowner winds are on tap for Saturday (local time) that could fan the flames and temperatures were set to top 37.8 degrees Celsius over the weekend.

The fire is one of a series of blazes in western and southwestern states brought about by high temperatures and a prolonged dry spell.

One of the largest has been southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico, that has destroyed about two dozen homes and forced evacuations.