Californian wildfires continue destruction

  • 24/06/2016
Californian wildfires continue destruction

A fast-growing wildfire has destroyed at least 80 homes near the riverside community of Lake Isabella in central California as a threat to populated areas from five other major blazes across the state diminished.

The so-called Erskine Fire erupted on Thursday afternoon (local time) in the foothills of Kern County about 70km northeast of Bakersfield.

Within hours it exploded to cover 1200-2000ha of drought-parched brush and grass, fire information website InciWeb said.

Fire officials also said power was knocked out as darkness fell and evacuation orders were in effect for more than 1000 homes.

Flames were threatening about 1500 structures by Thursday night, InciWeb said.

Footage of the blaze carried on the Kern County Fire Department's Facebook page showed flames consuming several homes and roaring through nearby foothills as firefighting helicopters manoeuvred around billowing black and white smoke.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, though Kern County Fire Captain Tyler Townsend said some residents flouted evacuation orders.

Up to 350 fire personnel were battling the blaze and hundreds more were on the way, InciWeb said.

Nearly 5000 firefighters elsewhere around the state battled to control several major wildfires raging from the Klamath National Forest near Oregon to desert brush near the Mexico border.

Authorities said the danger was still high in some areas despite making enough progress to lift evacuation orders for many residents who had been forced to flee this week.

The combination of high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity could challenge crews and raise the risk of new blazes in the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the National Weather Service said.

In San Diego County, authorities lifted evacuation orders for the Mexican border community of Portrero on Thursday, saying crews had cut containment lines around a fifth of a wildfire that has blackened about 2,750ha.

Evacuation orders remained in force for residents of two other mountain communities. Flames have already destroyed five homes and a dozen outbuildings since Sunday.

In foothills northeast of Los Angeles, authorities lifted evacuation orders on 534 homes on Wednesday as firefighters struggled to corral two wildfires that had merged, but evacuation orders stayed on 324 more homes.

The blaze had charred 5200 acres of chaparral and grass by Thursday morning and containment lines had been drawn about 15 percent of the flames, authorities said.

The largest of the major California wildfires, the so-called Sherpa Fire in Santa Barbara County, was largely contained by Thursday, with most evacuation orders lifted.