Over 82,000 forced to flee fire in California

Firefighters battling to stop a fast-moving wildfire are further challenged by high temperatures and steep terrain.
A firefighter battling the Blue Cut wildfire near Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino, California, on Tuesday. A record five-year drought and a sizzling heatwave in California are fanning wildfires in the state.
A firefighter battling the Blue Cut wildfire near Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino, California, on Tuesday. A record five-year drought and a sizzling heatwave in California are fanning wildfires in the state.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • 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, the inferno was not contained as of late Tuesday, state firefighting agency Cal Fire spokesman Lynne Tolmachoff told Agence France-Presse. "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 100km east of Los Angeles, where the blaze, which has been named the Blue Cut fire, was quickly growing.

It began on Tuesday morning and had already burned more than 7,200ha, 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, an 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.

The wildfire poses "imminent threat to public safety, rail traffic and structures", according to Inciweb, which said 82,640 people fell under an evacuation warning.

California is in its fifth year of a record drought and parts of the state are sizzling in a heatwave with temperatures topping 40 deg C.

Strong seasonal gusts, known as the Santa Ana winds, complete the perfect conditions for wildfires in the state.

Another major fire has been burning 160km north of San Francisco since Saturday.

The Clayton fire, as it is called, has burned more than 1,600ha of land and is being fought by around 1,700 fire personnel, who have brought 35 per cent 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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Over 82,000 forced to flee fire in California'. Print Edition | Subscribe