With ash and smoke turning day into night, a wind-driven wildfire closed in on several Southern California communities east of Los Angeles today, destroying four houses and forcing firefighters to make their stand in back gardens.
Thousands of people were evacuated and two major freeways were closed for a time.
“We got out what was important, and what’s most important is us,” said Christiane Elin, 30, who with her husband was among hundreds of people gathered at a high school serving as an evacuation centre in Rancho Cucamonga.
About 12,600 acres have burned since the fire started on Tuesday in the hilly residential areas near the San Bernardino National Forest.
For the week, about 20,000 acres have been scorched by several fires across Southern California.
Ash covered cars half a mile from the fire in San Bernardino County, and billowing clouds of black smoke hung above the heavily-developed area.
“It looks like night-time here,” said Kelly Bocanegra, an primary school teacher.
Firefighters supported by water-dropping aircraft battled flames in back yards in Rancho Cucamonga, where four houses was destroyed.
The fire also reached the outskirts of Fontana and Rialto in the sprawling suburbs about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
The flames were fanned by hot, dry desert winds of 25mph and higher. The fire was only 17% contained.
Forecasters said the wind would only get stronger.
About 30 miles west of the fire, a light dusting of ash fell on Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, the site of the €13m Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships today.
Horses from North America and Europe worked out under a hazy sun as a huge plume of smoke hung in the distance.
The fire, which authorities blamed on arson, was one of several that swept the region this week.
At Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, 50 miles north of San Diego, a 4,110-acre brush fire was as close as a mile from scattered ranches and homes.
A 2,857-acre arson in the Reche Canyon area of Riverside County that was contained on Thursday destroyed five homes, a boat and several vehicles.