California wildfire rages with 53 homes destroyed, thousands threatened

A RELENTLESS southern California wildfire raged yesterday with 53 homes up in smoke, thousands more threatened and new rounds of evacuations as towering flames crackled close to foothill neighbourhoods in the path of the blaze.

Flames ploughed through half-century-old thickets of tinder-dry brush, bush and trees just 24 kilometres north of downtown Los Angeles. The 6-day-old fire is now expected to burn for weeks.

The size of fire in the Angeles National Forest grew to more than 490 square kilometres overnight, US Forest Service Cmdr Mike Dietrich said.

It was spreading in all directions yesterday, from Sunland on the western front of the fire to the high desert ranchlands of Acton on the northeast.

Firefighters planned to set backfires to protect the Sunland area and will try to halt its north-eastern spread with bulldozers to carve 12 kilometres of firebreak in the Acton area, forest spokesman Shane Rollman said.

Firefighters were keeping a close eye on the weather.

Meteorologist Curt Kaplan says there was a 20% chance of a thunderstorm in the fire area last night, but that could end up being a bad thing because the storm could spawn 65kmph wind gusts. Kaplan says temperatures will begin slowly cooling later in the week.

The blaze threatened some 12,000 homes but had already done its worst to the suburban Tujunga Canyon neighbourhood, where residents returned to their wrecked homes.

Bert Voorhees and his son fetched cases of wine from the brackish water of their backyard swimming pool, about all he salvaged from his home.

“You’re going to be living in a lunar landscape for at least a couple of years,” Voorhees said.

About 2,000 people were chased from their homes in triple-digit heat as fire bosses said it could take weeks to contain the fire. Fire spokesman Paul Lowenthal said that the blaze is expected to be fully surrounded by September 15. Only 5% of the fire, the largest of several California wildfires, was contained so far.

Authorities said five men and one woman refused several orders to evacuate a remote ranch in a canyon near Gold Creek. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s office had initially said the people were trapped and could not be rescued.

“When we tried to get them out, they said they’re fine, no problem, they didn’t want to leave,” said fire spokesman Larry Marinas.


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