80 homes gutted by wildfire in California

A Kern County Fire Department photo shows the fast-spreading Erskine Fire, which has destroyed 80 homes and burned up to 2,000ha in Lake Isabella, California, on Thursday.
A Kern County Fire Department photo shows the fast-spreading Erskine Fire, which has destroyed 80 homes and burned up to 2,000ha in Lake Isabella, California, on Thursday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Thousands of firefighters also battling major blazes elsewhere in the state

LOS ANGELES • A fast-growing wildfire destroyed at least 80 homes near the riverside community of Lake Isabella in central California, while a threat to populated areas from five other major blazes across the state diminished, the authorities said.

The so-called Erskine Fire erupted around 4pm on Thursday (7am yesterday Singapore time) in the foothills of Kern County about 68km north-east of Bakersfield.

Within hours, it exploded to cover between 1,200ha and 2,000ha of drought-parched brush and grass, fire information website InciWeb said.

Fire officials said power was knocked out as darkness fell and evacuation orders were in effect for more than 1,000 homes. Flames were threatening about 1,500 structures by Thursday night, InciWeb added. Footage of the blaze carried on the Kern County Fire Depart- ment's Facebook page showed flames consuming homes and roaring through foothills as firefighting helicopters manoeuvred around billowing black and white smoke.

The video showed entire blocks of homes devastated by the fire, with jets of flame seen shooting into the evening air from charred household gas canisters.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, though Kern County Fire Captain Tyler Townsend said some residents flouted evacuation orders. Up to 350 fire personnel were battling the blaze and hundreds more were en route, according to InciWeb.

Nearly 5,000 firefighters elsewhere battled to control several major wildfires raging from the Klamath National Forest near Oregon to desert brush near the Mexico border. The authorities said the danger was still high in some areas, despite making enough progress to lift evacuation orders for many residents who had been forced to flee earlier this week.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, saying the combination of high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity could challenge crews and raise the risk of new blazes.

In San Diego County, the authorities lifted evacuation orders for the Mexican border community of Portrero on Thursday, saying crews had cut containment lines around a fifth of a wildfire that has blackened some 2,700ha.

Evacuation orders remained in force at two other mountain communities. Flames have already destroyed five homes and a dozen outbuildings since Sunday.

In foothills north-east of Los Angeles, the authorities lifted evacuation orders on 534 homes on Wednesday as firefighters struggled to corral two wildfires that had merged, but evacuation orders stayed on 324 more homes.

The blaze had charred 2,100ha of chaparral and grass by Thursday morning and containment lines had been drawn around 15 per cent of the flames, the authorities said.

The largest of the major California wildfires, the so-called Sherpa Fire in Santa Barbara County, was largely contained by Thursday, with most evacuation orders lifted.

The Pony Fire, ignited by a lightning strike on June 7 in the Klamath National Forest and which has blackened more than 1,133ha, was 60 per cent contained by Thursday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline '80 homes gutted by wildfire in California'. Print Edition | Subscribe