New fires spark in California as crews hope for weather change

Forecasters say high winds are expected to subside on Thursday night, as fires continue across region of horse ranches.

    Horses were evacuated from a ranch in Simi Valley as crews battled several firefighters in Southern California [Ringo HW Chiu/The Associated Press]
    Horses were evacuated from a ranch in Simi Valley as crews battled several firefighters in Southern California [Ringo HW Chiu/The Associated Press]

    More wildfires ignited near Los Angeles on Thursday, destroying homes and forcing even more evacuations in the area, as the region faced a second day of gusting desert winds that have fanned flames and displaced thousands of people.

    The fast-moving Hillside Fire, which ignited in the scrub-covered slopes of San Bernadino, a city to the east of Los Angeles grew to 80 hectares (200 acres) and was starting to consume homes on Thursday, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

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    At least six homes were destroyed or damaged and about 1,300 people had been ordered to evacuate, as a helicopter and a small plane dropped water and retardant on the flames, according to Chris Prater, a fire department spokesman. 

    "The winds have probably been the biggest factor promoting this fire spread," Prater said.

    In the nearby city of Jurupa Valley, evacuation orders were issued for homes around a 60-hectare (150-acre) fire that sparked on Thursday. Three residences and two other structures were confirmed destroyed, the county's fire department said.

    That fire came after another blaze Wednesday in Jurupa Valley forced the evacuation of two mobile home parks and a psychiatric nursing care facility, where elderly people wearing face masks and wrapped in blankets were taken out in wheelchairs and gurneys as smoke swirled overhead. 

    The fire grew to 80 hectares (200 acres) before its spread was stopped.

    Hillside Fire 2
    A firefighter sprayed water on a scorched home as the Hillside Fire burns in San Bernardino [Noah Berger/The Associated Press]

    "There was one moment when I could see nothing but dark smoke and I was like, 'We're going to die,'" Qiana McCracken, assistant director of nursing for the Riverside Heights Healthcare Center, told the Associated Press news agency.

    The region's Santa Ana winds have been so extraordinarily dry, powerful and prolonged that the National Weather Service created a new alert level, issuing an "extreme red flag warning" through Thursday evening in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The weather phenomena blew 96kph (60mph) winds across the region, which were expected to subside Thursday evening. 

    Southern California fires

    Two other major fires have charred the region and prompted evacuations since the beginning of the week.

    The so-called "Getty Fire" broke out near the Getty Center art museum to the east of Los Angeles on Monday morning, burning up and down the mountain slopes around a major highway.

    Officials ordered the evacuation of more than 10,000 homes in some of the city's richest neighbourhoods, although they began allowing some people to return on Wednesday as crews brought under control about 40 percent of the 300-hectare (745-acre) fire. 

    The Easy Fire then ignited early on Wednesday, sending flames racing up to the walls of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library atop a mountain in Ventura County's Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles. 

    Some 30,000 residents were ordered to evacuate, along with an unknown number of horses in an area known for its ranches. County schools remained closed on Thursday.

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    People and horses evacuated from a fire in the Simi Valley, an area known for its ranches [Ringo HW Chiu/The Associated Press]

    That fire had consumed more than 688 hectares (1,700 acres), and was 10 percent contained, the Ventura County Fire Department said.

    Two firefighters were hurt in the Getty Fire, but otherwise, no injuries have been reported, although at least a dozen homes in Los Angeles have burned down.

    Investigators say the Getty Fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch that was blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning.

    Northern California fire 

    In northern California, firefighters have been fighting the 30,760-hectare (976,000-acre) Kincade Fire in Sonoma County's wine country for more than a week. That blaze has destroyed at least 189 homes and other structures, but was 45 percent contained as of Thursday. 

    The Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) company acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire started near a damaged transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line on that tower malfunctioned.

    California Fire
    Weather forecasters said strong winds were expected to subside Thursday evening [Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press]

    The company filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30bn in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

    The governor has been sharply critical of PG&E, saying corporate greed and mismanagement kept it from upgrading its infrastructure while wildfire hazards have steadily worsened over the past decade. The company has been deliberately cutting power to millions of customers in recent weeks in an attempt to prevent their equipment from sparking any further fires. 

    As many as 190,000 people were displaced at the height of the Kincade Fire, but evacuation orders in many areas have since been lifted.

    SOURCE: News agencies