California has declared a state of emergency in areas hit by a fast-expanding wildfire that injured four firefighters and forced thousands of people to evacuate small towns near wine country.
The firefighters were hospitalised with second-degree burns after they were dropped off by helicopter to build containment lines against the so-called Valley Fire, which broke out in Lake County, north of San Francisco, and then spread quickly in hot weather and drought conditions.
A school, blocks of homes and an apartment building, and businesses were destroyed in the small town of Middletown.
The Valley Fire, with 1,000 personnel assigned to fight it, is the latest in a string of large and destructive wildfires that have ripped through drought-stricken brush and forest on the west coast over the summer.
Firefighters were battling 13 active fires in California, including the 40,000-acre Valley Fire, which was 0pc contained, and the 65,215-acre Butte Fire, which was 20pc contained yesterday.
An evacuee from Kelseyville - a town that is partly in the path of the Valley Fire - said Middletown and a nearby community called Cobb were "gone" and that there were explosions at a petrol station.
Chad Greenwood, a 44-year-old travel agent, said he grabbed his two dogs and one suitcase with important documents after police gave him and other residents an hour to leave.
"Where I live, the smoke smell was really bad. It was so dark it looked like it was 8.30 at night at seven o'clock in the morning," he said by phone.
The UC Davis Medical Centre, to where the injured firefighters were airlifted, confirmed the admission of the men but would not comment on their condition.
Governor Jerry Brown previously declared an emergency in rural Amador and Calaveras counties, where the Butte Fire began last Wednesday. It has destroyed 86 homes and also forced the evacuation of thous-ands of residents.
Some 3,500 more people were evacuated on Friday from the path of the flames from a larger blaze, dubbed the Rough Fire, which is burning in Kings Canyon National Park in central California.