Raging wildfire engulfs California homes, film set

Residents flee their home as flames from the Sand Fire close in on July 23, 2016, near Santa Clarita, California.
Residents flee their home as flames from the Sand Fire close in on July 23, 2016, near Santa Clarita, California.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Thousands of firefighters battled Monday (July 25) to contain a blaze tearing through California’s Santa Clarita valley, destroying homes and a popular filming location and threatening actress Tippi Hedren’s animal sanctuary.

The so-called Sand Fire in suburban Los Angeles has scorched more than 132 sq km of brush, threatening at least 2,000 properties and forcing an estimated 20,000 residents to flee.

About 10,000 homes have been evacuated since the fire broke out Friday near Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, according to law enforcement officers.

Eighteen homes had been destroyed, officials said, including two belonging to firefighters.

Police are investigating the death of a badly charred unidentified man, found in a car parked in the driveway of a house in the fire zone.

The blaze was just 10 per cent contained as of Monday morning, according to Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby.

Around 3,000 firefighters and 26 helicopters have been deployed to tackle the inferno, which blackened the skies over Los Angeles over the weekend. Many roads and highways were partly closed.

The ferocious blaze destroyed much of Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, which has Western-style buildings used for movie locations.

“Unfortunately you can only do so much... It was a horrific fire storm, I guess you could say, as it came down through there on us,” owner Derek Hunt told NBC Los Angeles.

“But at some point you know you’re defeated and you have to step back and save what you can. We fought as best as we could.”

The ranch has been the site of various television and film shoots, including 24, The A-Team, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Maverick.

Hedren’s animal sanctuary, Shambala Preserve, was also forced to move 340 of its more than 400 residents, including Bengal tigers and a mountain lion, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Please say a prayer for all residents in the path of the #SandFire. My Moms place Shambala is being evacuated,” the actress Melanie Griffith, who is Hedren’s daughter, tweeted on Sunday.

Hedren, who founded the sanctuary in the desert community of Acton in 1972, kept a lion in the family home when Griffith was a teenager.

Around five hours later she added: “Mom is safe! Shambala is safe. Now sending love and thanks to all the firefighters who saved her and the cats...”

Meanwhile a wildfire about 480km up the coast, outside the Big Sur tourist region, has grown to more than 60 sq km destroying 20 homes and threatening at least 1,600 more.

Forest fires are a fact of life in much of California but have become far worse because of bone-dry conditions, with the Golden State gripped in its fifth year of drought.

In May, fires near Los Angeles pushed 5,000 people out of their homes in the affluent Calabasas area, an LA suburb which is home to many celebrities including members of the Kardashian family.