A rapidly spreading fire raging east of Los Angeles forced the evacuation of more than 82,000 people as the governor of California declared a state of emergency.
Despite the efforts of 1,250 firefighters with more on the way, none of the inferno was contained as of late Tuesday, state firefighting agency Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told AFP.
“We have very, very dry brush, thick fuel, it helps move it along very quickly,” she said. “It is very dangerous to the public and also to the firefighters.”
Governor Jerry Brown declared the state of emergency for San Bernardino County, just 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, where the blaze, which has been named the Blue Cut fire, was quickly growing.
It began around 10:30 am (1730 GMT) Tuesday and had already burned 18,000 acres (more than 7,200 hectares), according to the multi-agency Inciweb information site. Around 34,500 homes were threatened.
The inferno has already claimed one high-profile victim: the Summit Inn, a old-fashioned diner on the world-famous Route 66 that counted celebrities like Elvis Presley and Clint Eastwood among its clientele, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Two firefighters were slightly injured after being surrounded by flames. They were treated at a hospital and released, and were back on the line fighting the blaze, Inciweb said.
The wildfire poses “imminent threat to public safety, rail traffic and structures,” according to the website, which said 82,640 people fell under an evacuation warning.
Several area roads were closed, as was the Mountain High ski resort in Wrightwood which hosts hiking and other outdoor activities in warmer months.
Tolmachoff said it was rare to have so many people evacuated but not unheard of. Some are holding out, she added.
“We do have people who chose not to evacuate. They cause trouble,” she said.
– Perfect conditions –
California is in its fifth year of a record drought and parts of the state are sizzling in a heatwave with temperatures topping 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
Strong seasonal gusts known as the Santa Ana winds complete the perfect conditions for wildfires.
Another major fire has been burning 100 miles north of San Francisco since Saturday.
The Clayton fire, as it is called, has burned more than 4,000 acres and is being fought by around 1,700 fire personnel who have brought 35 percent of the blaze under control, according to Cal Fire.
More than 175 buildings have been destroyed as the blaze continues to move aggressively to the north, it said.
In central California’s wine region, the Chimney fire burned 6,900 acres near the city of San Luis Obispo. It destroyed 40 buildings since starting on Saturday, and was only 20 percent contained.
And in the scenic coastal area of Big Sur, the Soberanes fire had scorched more than 76,000 acres and was 60 percent contained.
Twenty major fires are currently raging across the western United States. There were six in California, four in Wyoming and three each in Colorado and Montana, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.