More fires and evacuations in weary California

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Firefighters battled several active wildfires on Thursday in California but appeared to make headway against a number of major blazes that have forced mass evacuations and power cuts.

Two fast-moving infernos broke out early Thursday in the southern part of the state, burning several homes and forcing people to flee.

One -- the Hillside Fire -- was in San Bernardino, some 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, while the other -- the 46 Fire -- was in neighboring Riverside County.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-dropping helicopters were attacking the infernos driven by record so-called Santa Ana winds that have prompted unprecedented warnings of "extremely critical" fire risk -- the most severe category.

The National Weather Service said although the warnings would remain in effect through Thursday for much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, conditions had improved.

"Winds are somewhat lighter today over most areas, which is good news for our firefighters," it said.

In northern California, firefighters reported making significant progress against the massive Kincade Fire, which erupted October 23 and has ravaged the Sonoma County wine region.

The blaze, the biggest this season, has destroyed nearly 300 homes and other properties, including several wineries, and burned nearly 77,000 acres (31,000 hectares). It was 60 percent contained Thursday.

A mandatory evacuation order was lifted allowing tens of thousands of residents to return to their homes.

Fire crews meanwhile continued to battle a blaze in the Simi Valley, northwest of Los Angeles, where a fire broke out on Wednesday and came dangerously close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

- 'A lot of threats' -

About 30,000 people were forced to evacuate as the flames raged into the night, fueled by wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour.

The winds were powerful enough to overturn some trucks on a nearby highway.

More than 700 firefighters were battling the blaze known as the Easy Fire, backed by helicopters and aircraft dumping water and fire retardant.

"We are still not through this," Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen told reporters late Wednesday. "We have another 24 hours of significant weather conditions, and a lot of threats."

It was unclear what started the fire but Southern California Edison said it began near one of its powerlines which had not been cut off.

The utility, as well as other power companies throughout the state, has been shutting off power to hundreds of thousands of customers in a bid to lower the fire risk.

The Ventura County Fire Department said the Easy fire has burned 1,723 acres and has been 10 percent contained as of Thursday morning.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a statewide emergency because of the fires and secured federal funding to assist agencies responding to the fires.

The blazes 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.

Similar blazes in northern California, including in the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, killed 44 people in 2017 and destroyed thousands of structures.

Remarkably, there have been no fatalities linked to this year's fires.