'Firenadoes' raging through southern California

Smoke rising from a burnt-out grove of trees in Wrightwood, California, on Wednesday. The blaze was so ferocious that it generated tornado-like flaming vortexes known as "firenadoes".
Smoke rising from a burnt-out grove of trees in Wrightwood, California, on Wednesday. The blaze was so ferocious that it generated tornado-like flaming vortexes known as "firenadoes".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PHELAN (United States) • Weary firefighters yesterday battled a raging inferno that was threatening the homes of more than 82,000 people in southern California and sent flaming "firenadoes" tearing across the brush.

Nearly 1,600 firefighters were fighting the giant blaze but had contained only 4 per cent of it, according to a fire service official.

Dramatic local TV news footage captured from the front line of the wildfire in the town of Phelan showed tornado-like flaming vortexes - known as "firenadoes" - sent spinning into the air by the ferocity of the blaze.

"We have very, very dry brush - thick fuel - it helps move it (the fire) along very quickly," said Ms Lynne Tolmachoff, spokesman for the state firefighting agency Cal Fire. "It is very dangerous to the public and also to the firefighters."

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, just 100km east of Los Angeles, where the so-called Blue Cut Fire was quickly growing, its cause still unclear.

The inferno began at around 10.30am on Tuesday and has already scorched through 10,370ha, according to the multi-agency InciWeb information site.

The size of the fire was down from the 12,140ha reported earlier due to better mapping of the area, the Los Angeles Times reported.

More than 34,500 homes were threatened and 82,640 people were under evacuation warnings.

"There is an imminent threat to public safety, rail traffic and structures in the Cajon Pass, Lytle Creek, Wrightwood, Oak Hills and surrounding areas," Inciweb said.

A dozen fire engines waited for orders to evacuate Paso Lane, located between several burning hills where columns of smoke billowed into the sky.

"The whole community is being evacuated," said local firefighter Mike Anderson, who had been battling the blaze with his team for more than 24 straight hours.

"The fire is moving very fast straight through Highway 138, it is still growing."

California is in its fifth year of a record drought, with parts experiencing a heatwave and strong seasonal gusts known as the Santa Ana winds, a recipe for perfect wildfire conditions.

Thousands of firefighters are already committed to several other major fires - north of San Francisco, in central California's wine region and in the scenic coastal area of Big Sur.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline ''Firenadoes' raging through southern California'. Print Edition | Subscribe