Saturday 3 December 2016

Southern California wildfire spreads as blazes hit parched states

Jon Herskovitz

Published 18/06/2016 | 16:52

A fire crew takes shelter behind an engine as the Sherpa Fire advances at El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. in this handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2016. Ron Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fires Department/Handout via Reuters
A fire crew takes shelter behind an engine as the Sherpa Fire advances at El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. in this handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2016. Ron Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fires Department/Handout via Reuters
A fire crew takes shelter behind an engine as the Sherpa Fire advances at El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. in this handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2016. Ron Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fires Department/Handout via Reuters
A sky crane helicopter makes a drop as the Sherpa Fire burns on the divider of Highway 101 at El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. in this handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2016. Ron Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fires Department/Handout via Reuters
The so-called "Sherpa Fire" burns in the hills near Santa Barbara, California, U.S. June 16, 2016. Picture taken with a long exposure. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
The so-called "Sherpa Fire" burns in the hills near Santa Barbara, California, U.S. June 16, 2016. Picture taken with a long exposure. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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

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The so-called Sherpa Fire in Santa Barbara County, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, had burned through about 7,100 acres (2,870 hectares) by early Saturday and firefighters had contained about a quarter of the blaze, Santa Barbara County said on its Twitter feed.

More than 1,200 firefighters have been dispatched to battle the flames being fueled by dry chaparral and grass in coastal canyons about 20 miles (32 kilometers) 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.

Fire crews are shown on scene for structure protection during the Sherpa Fire at El Capitan Ranch Campground in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. in this handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2016. Ron Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fires Department/Handout via Reuters
Fire crews are shown on scene for structure protection during the Sherpa Fire at El Capitan Ranch Campground in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. in this handout photo released to Reuters June 16, 2016. Ron Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fires Department/Handout via Reuters

So far no serious injuries or damage have been reported.

The fire broke out on Wednesday and has been expanding since then. Little relief is in sight with high winds and temperatures set to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (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, destroying about two dozen homes and forced evacuations.

The so-called Dog Head Fire has burned through about 17,000 acres (6,880 hectares) of timber and logging zones in four days. Governor Susana Martinez this week declared a state of emergency to free up resources to fight the blaze.

For an area stretching from Southern California to southern Nevada and into Arizona, the National Weather service has put out "red flag warnings," indicating conditions that could lead to dangerous fires.

It has also issued a heat advisory for large parts of New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

Reuters

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