Saturday 21 April 2018

Raging wildfires force children to flee from California summer camp

A plane drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Oroville, Calif., on Saturday (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A plane drops retardant while battling a wildfire near Oroville, Calif., on Saturday (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Wildfires have swept across wide areas of the western US and Canada, destroying homes, forcing thousands to flee and temporarily trapping children and staff at a California camp ground.

A pair of wildfires sparked by record-breaking heat in southern California quickly spread, threatening hundreds of homes in Santa Barbara County, spreading to both sides of Highway 154, county fire Captain Dave Zaniboni said.

About 90 children and 50 counsellors were stuck at the Circle V Ranch and had to take shelter until they could be safely evacuated.

High temperatures and dry gusts tripled the size of another Santa Barbara wildfire to nearly 30 square miles over eight hours and forced evacuations of about 200 homes in a rural area east of Santa Maria, fire spokesman Kirk Sturm said.

Santa Barbara officials sent out alerts to residents and campers near Cachuma Lake to evacuate as the fire started near Whittier Camp, Mr Zaniboni said.

The lake, which was nearly bone dry last summer after the severe drought, is popular for camping, boating and fishing. Residents were also ordered to leave cabins in the Los Padres National Forest.

A helicopter drops water while battling a wildfire near Oroville, Calif., on Saturday (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A helicopter drops water while battling a wildfire near Oroville, Calif., on Saturday (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The fire burned at least 4.7 square miles, including a portion of the Cachuma Lake campground.

In northern California, a Butte County wildfire swept through grassy foothills and destroyed 10 structures, including homes, and led to several minor injuries.

The blaze about 60 miles north of Sacramento grew rapidly to more than seven square miles and was 20% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The area burning was about 10 miles south of Oroville, where spillways in the nation's tallest dam began crumbling from heavy rains this winter and led to temporary evacuation orders for 200,000 residents downstream.

On Saturday, authorities issued an evacuation for about 250 homes threatened by the fire

After five years of severe drought, California got a big break with record rainfall and snow in parts of the state this year that have delayed the start of fire season in some places, but has also led to explosive vegetation growth that could fuel future fires.

In Colorado, residents of nearly 500 homes outside the ski town of Breckenridge were allowed to return home on Friday night.

On Saturday, authorities lifted an evacuation order in Landusky, Montana, in the Little Rocky Mountains south of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

A grass fire in north-western Colorado had burned 18 square miles and was spreading in several directions at once because of wind patterns from passing thunderstorms, fire spokesman Chris Barth said.

A wildfire in southern Wyoming grew to three square miles. An unknown number of cabins remained under evacuation orders.

In Canada, firefighters were contending with nearly 200 wildfires in British Columbia that had destroyed dozens of buildings, including several homes and two airport hangars.

The three biggest fires, which ranged in size from five to eight square miles, had forced thousands of people to flee.

The province has been sending as many firefighters as it can to contain the flames -- more than 1,000 were battling the fires on Saturday, backed by hundreds of support staff.

Cliff Chapman, deputy manager at Kamloops Fire Centre, said: "I've been in this business for 17 years, from crew all the way up to where I am now, and I haven't experienced a day like we experienced yesterday."

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