California fires: warnings for Los Angeles, progress up north

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Firefighters made progress battling a fire raging in northern California's wine country on Wednesday as rare "extreme" red flag warnings were issued for much of the Los Angeles region.

The National Weather Service said powerful Santa Ana winds, with potential gusts of up to 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour) in mountainous areas, had created "extremely critical" conditions in parts of southern California.

"We expect the Santa Anas to be howling," the NWS said.

A blaze in the Simi Valley northeast of Los Angeles known as the "Easy Fire" forced the evacuation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and nearby homes, officials said.

Closer to Los Angeles, firefighters were battling the "Getty Fire," which began near the famous Getty Center museum on Monday and by Tuesday had burned 656 acres (265 hectares).

Authorities said the Getty Fire, which was caused by a tree branch that fell on power lines, had been 15 percent contained but the strong winds had raised fears that wind-blown embers could spark further blazes.

"Adverse weather conditions will be the biggest challenge for firefighters," Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said.

"In anticipation of the extreme Santa Ana wind event, the LAFD has recalled and staffed additional resources," Stewart said. "These resources will be strategically placed in key locations that have a history of being prone to wildfire."

Further north, in Sonoma County, Cal Fire, the California fire department, said firefighters had made progress overnight battling the Kincade Fire, which has consumed 76,825 acres (31,000 hectares) and led to mandatory evacuation orders affecting nearly 200,000 people.

More than 5,000 firefighters backed by 600 fire engines, 27 helicopters and air tankers were battling the inferno, which has destroyed 206 homes and commercial properties, including several wineries, and was now 30 percent contained, Cal Fire said.

Celebrities, including Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who was forced to evacuate because of the flames from the Getty Fire, have pitched in to help crews battling the blazes.

The basketball great sent a taco truck to feed firefighters in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a tweet.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a statewide emergency because of the fires and the state's largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, has been imposing rolling blackouts in the northern and central parts of the state in a bid to reduce the fire risk.

The wildfires come as California is still reeling from the aftermath of the most destructive wildfire in state history -- the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 86 people last year.