October 28, 2016

Wildfire destroys dozens of homes in central California

A Los Angeles City Fire Department helicopter flies over one of two wildfires in the Angeles National Forest

A fast-growing wildfire destroyed at least 50 homes near the riverside community of Lake Isabella in central California on Thursday, as five other major blazes up and down the state posed a diminishing threat to populated areas, authorities said.

The so-called Erskine Fire erupted at about 4 p.m. local time (2300 GMT) in Kern County’s foothills some 42 miles (68 km) northeast of Bakersfield. Within four hours it had devoured 2,500 acres of drought-parched brush and grass, county fire officials said.

Fire officials also said power was knocked out as darkness fell and thousands of residents fled their homes.

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 maneuvered around billowing black and white smoke.

A Facebook livestream from one fire official showed entire blocks of homes devastated by the fire, with jets of flame seen shooting into the evening air from charred household gas canisters.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. Kern County said about 275 personnel were assigned to the blaze.

While official estimates put the total number of homes lost at 50 to 60, fire Captain Tyler Townsend said in livestream documenting the damage: “I believe it’s well beyond that at this point.”

Nearly 5,000 firefighters elsewhere around the state worked to gain control over 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 earlier this week.

The National Weather Service issued a so-called red flag warning for the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, saying the combination of high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity could challenge those crews and raise the risk of new blazes.

In San Diego County, authorities lifted evacuation orders for the Mexican border community of Portrero on Thursday, saying crews had cut containment lines around 20 percent of a wildfire that has blackened some 6,800 acres since it broke out

Residents of two other mountain communities remained under evacuation orders. Flames have already destroyed five homes and a dozen outbuildings since Sunday morning.

Authorities lifted evacuation orders on 534 homes in foothills northeast of Los Angeles on Wednesday as firefighters struggled to corral two wildfires that had merged. Evacuation orders were still in effect for another 324 homes.

The blaze had charred 5,200 acres of chaparral and grass by Thursday morning and containment lines had been drawn around 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.

The Pony Fire, which was ignited in the Klamath National Forest by a lightning strike on June 7 and has since blackened more than 2,800 acres, was 60 percent contained by Thursday.

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