Saturday 3 December 2016

Wildfire surges in Californian coastal canyons

Published 18/06/2016 | 04:06

A DC-10 tanker drops fire retardant on a wildfire near Santa Barbara (AP)
A DC-10 tanker drops fire retardant on a wildfire near Santa Barbara (AP)

A fire in California's coastal canyons has grown by thousands of acres and winds are rising as the sun sets.

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Fire officials said the blaze west of Santa Barbara had consumed more than 9 square miles of brush by Friday evening and is putting about 270 homes and ranches at risk.

The fire is 20% contained. So far, the only damage has been to an outbuilding, but camp sites and some ranches remain under evacuation orders.

About 1,200 firefighters and a fleet of aircraft have been battling the flames.

Overnight, so-called "sundowner" winds gusting to 40mph or more spread the flames and forced the closure of a freeway, US 101.

Fire officials said the winds are rising again, and the area is also seeing rising temperatures as a weekend heatwave begins.

Susan Klein-Rothschild, with the county health department, said: "It's very hot and dangerous. The last couple of nights... it's calmer during the day and the eruptions and explosions and expansions have happened during the night hours."

Another fire erupted on Friday afternoon in northern California. The wind-driven blaze south west of Sacramento quickly burned 200 acres of grasslands and prompted the evacuation of China Gulch, a tiny community in historic Gold Country.

By evening, the fire's forward movement had been stopped and the blaze was 40% contained.

In central New Mexico, a blaze that began on Tuesday had destroyed 24 homes and charred more than 26 square miles near the small community of Chilili.

Lighter winds helped firefighters battle the blaze in triple-digit temperatures.

Three days after the fire erupted in the Manzano Mountains, south of Albuquerque, it remained "extremely active", said fire information officer Denise Ottaviano.

"We're seeing up to 100ft flame lengths or more throughout the day," Ms Ottaviano said. "We're fighting it as many ways as we can and as safely and quickly as possible."

Authorities expanded a mandatory evacuation zone to include more subdivisions to the north and east. They could not say how many homes were affected or how many were directly threatened.

The fire cast a thick haze that reached as far north as Denver.

The California blaze appeared to support national authorities' predictions of another dangerous and difficult year for the state after years of drought. Firefighters and the US Forest Service have already fought more than 1,800 wildfires since January 1, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

While El Nino delivered rain and snow to northern California this winter, the south was bypassed. What rain fell was just enough to sprout grasses that quickly died, adding to the danger of long-dead vegetation.

"It is ominous," Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson told a press conference.

About 270 homes and ranches were at risk in southern Santa Barbara County at the foot of the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains, an east-west range that parallels the south-facing coast.

In east-central Arizona, progress was made against a 15-square-mile blaze that broke out on Wednesday south of Show Low.

Crews deliberately burned thousands of acres to deprive the fire of fuel.

Much of the fire is burning in terrain too rugged for safe work on the ground, so crews have concentrated on clearing firelines along a highway, roads and a power line, said Rick Miller, the fire team's operations section chief.

Press Association

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