Winds whip California fires as they spread south


BONSALL, United States: Unrelenting winds fanned towering flames on Friday (Saturday in Manila) in southern California, where hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee multiple devastating fires in the Los Angeles area and new outbreaks near San Diego.

Hundreds of structures including multi-million dollar mansions have been destroyed as thousands of firefighters battle wind-fueled wildfires on six different fronts.

Black smoke billowed through the region, gagging residents who ventured outdoors.

“I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve lived here 20 years,” Judy Herman, 76, told Agence France-Presse.

GROWING The Thomas fire burns in the Los Padres National Forest on Friday night (Saturday in Manila) near Ojai, California. AAFP PHOTO

Herman was relieved to find her home in Murrieta, east of Los Angeles, still intact. It was part of the huge evacuation zone forced by the “Liberty” fire—which included many ranches in the area, where rodeos are popular.

Meanwhile, since erupting in Ventura county late Monday, the so-called “Thomas” fire has ravaged 132,000 acres, an area nearly triple the size of Washington, D.C.

With gusts of up to 60 miles per hour, the turbulent seasonal Santa Ana winds whipped the fire on Friday, spitting embers and creating “extreme fire danger.” A red alert was extended into the weekend due to expected low humidity.

Despite the fires’ intensity, authorities have reported only one fatality so far, an unidentified person whose body was found overnight, according to Tim Lohman of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

Further south in San Diego county the “Lilac” fire was ballooning at a dangerous rate, charring more than 4,000 acres after igniting Thursday morning and triggering a new wave of evacuations as it encroached on the university town of Santa Barbara.

The plumes of smoke and flame left at least four people in the area injured from burns or smoke inhalation.

Flames also claimed the lives of more than two dozen racehorses after tearing through eight barns at the normally serene San Luis Rey training center, in the town of Bonsall, where some 500 horses were stabled, the California Horse Racing Board said in a statement.

“75 percent of the stables were consumed, the fire was spreading so fast. . .they couldn’t evacuate all the horses,” fire chief Ross Fowler said.



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