Two huge wildfires burned into neighbourhoods near Los Angeles last night, forcing frantic evacuations, destroying homes and causing at least two deaths.
Residents were warned to stay on alert during the night and winds of more than 60mph were forecast.
More than 1,000 firefighters and nine water-dropping aircraft battled the 4,700-acre Marek Fire at the north-east end of the San Fernando Valley, and the 5,000-acre Sesnon Fire at the west end.
Winds blew up to 45mph with gusts reaching 70mph.
“This fire has the real potential of moving from where it is now ... as far as Pacific Coast (Highway),” said Los Angles County fire chief Michael Freeman.
Residents downwind were warned to remain alert into the night. “It can go from here to the ocean in a matter of two to three hours,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Authorities confirmed more than three-dozen mobile homes burned at the Marek Fire and TV news helicopter crews counted about 10 homes destroyed by the Sesnon Fire. Both fires also consumed commercial sites.
Firefighters were struggling with the resurgent, day-old Marek Fire when the new blaze erupted at midmorning a few miles to the west.
“It is a blowtorch we can’t get in front of,” said Los Angeles County fire inspector Frank Garrido.
The dry and warm Santa Ana winds typically blow between October and February. As they whistle through Southern California canyons and valleys, they accelerate, drying out vegetation and hastening the spread of any fires that erupt.
“This is what we feared the most,” Los Angeles County fire capt. Mark Savage said. “The winds that were expected – they have arrived.”