Thursday 17 October 2019

Thousands flee homes as wildfire rages on edge of LA

The Los Angeles Fire Department said the blaze had expanded over six square miles.

Los Angeles firefighters battle flames near homes in Sylmar, California (Michael Owen Baker/AP)
Los Angeles firefighters battle flames near homes in Sylmar, California (Michael Owen Baker/AP)

By Stefanie Dazio and Christopher Weber, Associated Press

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes as firefighters battle a wildfire raging on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

The blaze erupted late on Thursday along the northern tier of the San Fernando Valley as powerful Santa Ana winds swept Southern California, fanning several destructive blazes.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said the fire has spread to cover more than seven square miles and 100,000 people in more than 20,000 homes are subject to mandatory evacuation orders.

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Embers from fires are drifting in strong winds, spreading the flames further (Michael Owen Baker/AP)

Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said the fire had grown to more than 7 square miles and at least 25 homes had been damaged. A middle-aged man who was near the fire suffered a heart attack and died, while a death was also confirmed at an earlier wildfire east of Los Angeles.

Mr Terrazas said there are sustained winds of 20-25mph with gusts over 50mph, and relative humidity levels have fallen as low as 3%.

“As you can imagine the embers from the wind have been travelling a significant distance, which causes another fire to start,” he said.

Helicopters and planes are making repeated drops of water and fire retardant as about 1,000 firefighters on the ground attack the flames in and around homes. A number of properties have been destroyed.

Evacuations are also still in effect in the inland region east of Los Angeles where a fire erupted on Thursday and raged through a mobile home park in the Calimesa area of Riverside County.

Seventy-four buildings were destroyed, others were damaged and Riverside County authorities are trying to determine if anyone is missing.

Fire danger is high throughout Southern California after the typically dry summer and early autumn, and the notorious Santa Ana winds – linked to the spread of many wildfires – bring a dangerous mix of witheringly low humidity levels and powerful gusts.

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Firefighters battle the Saddleridge fire in Sylmar, California (David Swanson/AP)

The Calimesa fire erupted when the driver of a commercial rubbish truck dumped a smouldering load to prevent the vehicle from catching fire.

Dry grass quickly ignited and winds gusting to 50mph blew the fire into the Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park, about 75 miles east of central Los Angeles. The park has 110 home sites and was built in 1958, according to its website.

About 160 students sheltered in place as smoke enveloped nearby Mesa View Middle School before buses arrived and evacuated them to another school outside the fire zone.

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A woman evacuates her home with her cat amid thick smoke in the Granada Hills (Michael Owen Baker/AP)

Linda Klosek, 70, and her daughter Stacey Holloway, 43, had gone shopping and were on their way back to Villa Calimesa when they saw their neighbours evacuating.

Ms Klosek said: “You couldn’t even see anything, the smoke was so thick.

They watched on TV from an evacuation centre as flames destroyed their home.

“When you’re watching it, it’s like someone else’s home,” Ms Holloway said.

PA Media

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