LOS ANGELES • A fast-moving wildfire has forced hundreds of people to flee from their homes in the drought-parched mountains north of Los Angeles and near Big Sur on California's coast.
The blaze had blackened some 8,094ha by last Saturday night and was threatening homes, commercial structures and a sanctuary for exotic creatures, fire officials said.
The so-called Sand Fire broke out shortly after 2pm last Friday in the Sand Canyon area of suburban Santa Clarita, about 65km north-west of Los Angeles, and spread quickly, prompting evacuation orders covering about 1,500 homes.
"If we were to get very extreme fire behaviour, we're up to 45,000 homes," the Associated Press quoted Los Angeles County deputy fire chief John Tripp as saying on the number of homes threatened.
By late Saturday night, the Southern California blaze was about 20 per cent contained, casting a pall of thick black smoke over much of the city and threatening about 100 commercial structures.
Images posted on social media showed the sky tinted orange and pink, as residents posted pictures of the sun blotted out by the towering plumes. The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory, warning of unhealthy air conditions in the region.
On Saturday evening, people living in the Carmel Highlands north of the fire were told to be ready to leave immediately if an evacuation was ordered.
Ms Jerri Masten-Hansen said she and her husband had watched the fire approach. "We felt threatened this morning and decided we needed to go," she told KSBW-TV.
Her sister Ellen Masten also left home. "I grabbed all the pictures of the kids, and then I took the paintings of my parents," she said.
Evacuation shelters have been set up for residents in the area and about 10 roads have been closed. A number of roads in and out of foothill communities were shut.
About 400 animals were evacuated from the Wildlife Waystation, a sanctuary for exotic creatures that is within the Angeles National Forest. A Bengal tiger was sedated and trucked away, the AP reported. "We've got big cats, tigers, bears, we've got hyenas, we've got chimps," the sanctuary's executive director Susan Hartland told KABC-TV.
Some 900 firefighters were battling the flames in temperatures exceeding 41 deg C, with the aid of 28 helicopters and eight fixed-winged aircraft that dropped water or retardant. Fire managers said crews were struggling in very rugged terrain as they tried to stop the spreading blaze that is burning through chaparral and brush.
The weather was not expected to improve yesterday, with hot, dry conditions and gusty winds forecast.
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES