Hundreds evacuated from their homes as wildfires rage in the US

Blazes in Florida and California force around 1,600 people from their homes.

    Blazes in Florida and California force around 1,600 people from their homes [The Associated Press]
    Blazes in Florida and California force around 1,600 people from their homes [The Associated Press]

    Several fires burning through northwestern Florida in the United States have scorched thousands of acres of woods in recent days, razing dozens of structures, including homes, and forcing some hundreds of people to evacuate from their neighbourhoods.

    The 809-hectare (2,000-acre) fire in Santa Rosa County, located just east of Pensacola, prompted the evacuation of 1,100 homes on Wednesday.

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    Officials said a few residents in areas south of Interstate 10, northern Florida's main transportation artery, had been allowed to return to their homes, although others were told to stay away.

    There have been no reports of injuries or deaths but officials said at least 13 homes have so far been destroyed in the blaze, dubbed the Five Mile Swamp Fire. 

    Because of the coronavirus pandemic, some evacuees were sent to nearby hotels to avoid potential problems with crowding.

    Firefighters continued battling the erratic fire late into Thursday evening, and officials said it could be days before the situation was brought under control.

    A stretch of Interstate 10 remained closed in both directions near Pensacola because of smoke.

    The fire was feeding on stands of pines in forests strewn with dry needles.

    Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a news conference on Thursday afternoon that fire officials had reported the blaze as "a type of fire that they have never seen" in relation to its magnitude and speed.

    Fried and Florida forest service spokeswoman Ludie Bond said dry weather and gusty winds created dangerous fire conditions and allowed the blaze to quickly spread.

    Help does appear to be on hand from the weather. There is a band of much-needed and useful rain currently moving across the Florida Panhandle.

    On the other side of the country, winds have spread a brush fire over more than 61 hectares (150 acres) on the south Santa Barbara County coast, northwest of Los Angeles, amid a spell of hot and dry weather.

    The fire erupted on a ridge near Hollister Ranch shortly on Thursday as offshore winds swept the area, said county fire Captain Daniel Bertucelli.

    Containment was estimated at 50 percent by late afternoon. Voluntary evacuations of several houses on the ranch were requested.

    A water-dropping helicopter helped 120 firefighters battling the flames about 56km (35 miles) west of the city of Santa Barbara.

    SOURCE: AP news agency