Thousands of homes threatened in killer US blaze
A fast-growing California wildfire killed a second firefighter yesterday as high winds drove it towards the city of Redding, prompting mass evacuations and threatening some 5,000 homes and businesses.
The fire grew by about 60pc, scorching 18,000 hectares, state fire officials said. It was only 3pc contained as crews battled it for a fifth day.
A curtain of smoke and flames loomed over low-slung buildings in Redding, home to 90,000 people, with forecasts predicting wind gusts of 40kmh and temperatures of 43C.
"When you're dealing with temperatures that high, it's really, really hot heat," said California Fire spokesman Scott Kenney. "Stress, as far as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, are really serious situations that a firefighter can get into, so the tactics kind of get hindered by temperatures that high."
The fire is one of 88 burning nationally, mostly across the American west, one of which prompted the closure of much of Yosemite National Park.
This year so far, almost 1.6 million hectares have been blackened by wildfires, above a 10-year average of 1.5 million hectares over the same period, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre.
Roads out of Redding, about 240km north of state capital Sacramento, were jammed overnight with motorists trying to escape the flames.
Interstate 5, which runs from the Mexico border to Canada, runs near the city. The blaze killed two firefighters, one of whom had been using a bulldozer to clear plants to stop it spreading.
One of the city's hospitals, Mercy Medical Centre, said it had treated eight people, including three firefighters, for injuries related to the blaze.
"Wildfires happen every year in California," said Rick Plummer, a spokesman for Mercy Medical Centre. "This one seems to be a bit different when it's actually in town and burning up residential developments."
The blaze has so far destroyed 65 buildings and damaged another 55, officials said. Nearly 5,000 more were in danger.
Video footage and images posted on social media showed flames engulfing structures as an orange glow lit up the night sky. A Red Cross employee said there were some 500 people in the evacuation centre at Shasta College.
Two other major fires are also burning in the state.
California Fire said the Cranston fire, about 177km east of Los Angeles had blackened 4,650 hectares and was only 3pc contained. The Ferguson fire near Yosemite, which has charred 18,500 hectares, was 29pc contained.
Two weeks ago, a firefighter died fighting the Ferguson fire east of San Francisco when a bulldozer overturned. Seven other firefighters were hurt. (Reuters)