Firefighters battle raging California wildfire

MALIBU, California (AFP) - Firefighters deployed ground and air crews on Saturday for another day battling a raging southern California wildfire that threatened 4,000 homes.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity were helping efforts against the Springs Fire, and firefighters said they had contained 30 percent of the blaze, which erupted Thursday near Malibu, 65km west of Los Angeles.

The area on fire, which nearly tripled in size to 11,300ha over the course of Friday, stayed steady on Saturday morning.

Aerial operations resumed at daybreak after stopping overnight, the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) said on its Facebook page, adding that ground crews had continued battling the blaze without interruption.

Just under 1,900 firefighters - including from Los Angeles and other neighbouring areas - had gathered to battle the wind-fanned flames that have ripped through tinder-dry brush, the VCFD said, a nearly two-fold increase in personnel from Friday.

The department said the inferno threatened 4,000 homes, but by Saturday morning, just 15 homes had been damaged and none destroyed. A firefighter and a civilian had each been injured, both in a traffic accident away from the fire, it added.

California typically has fires later in the year, but strong winds and temperatures in the 30s Celsius have ignited a series of brushfires this week.

The Springs fire forced the closure of an eight-mile section of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and a university campus, and reached a US Navy facility on the coast, reports said.

The VCFD said the PCH had been reopened, but several other roads were closed. Evacuations were ordered over an expanded area Friday, after winds did an about-turn and pushed the fire back north.

Some celebrities, including actors Jamie Foxx and Tom Selleck, live near the evacuation area, according to KTLA 5 television. Many of the homes were luxury ranches that had stables of horses and other animals.

"There are some big beautiful homes up there... But so far, they're doing a good job of protecting them," VCFD spokesman Lori Ross told the LA Times.

Eight helicopters and six planes dropped water and fire retardant onto blazing hillsides to protect homes in the area on Friday.

California State University at Channel Islands remained closed Saturday "as the university completes clean-up," after canceling all classes and activities at its Camarillo site Thursday and Friday "due to the (fire) and heavy smoke drifting onto the campus." The university said on its website it hoped to re-open on Sunday.

Wildfires are common across the western United States in the summer, and in southern California they are often fanned by strong offshore Santa Ana winds later in the year, in the fall or winter.

Another blaze erupted Friday in Glendale, a residential suburb just 16km north of Los Angeles, burning some 75 acres of brush and forcing some local evacuations and the closure a nearby freeway.

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