LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - An “out of control” California wildfire prompted officials on Thursday (July 26) to order thousands of residents to flee their homes as firefighters struggled to contain the blaze in a mountainous area near the city of Redding.
The Carr Fire, about 240km north of Sacramento, had blackened about 8,000 hectares early on Thursday, three times its last-reported size a day ago.
Crews contained just 10 per cent of it, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
The conflagration is one of about 75 major wildfires burning in the United States in an unusually active fire season that has already scorched about 1.6 million hectares, mostly in western states.
That is above the 10-year average for the same period of 1.4 million hectares, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre.
The Carr Fire is currently in a sparsely inhabited area, but Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean warned in a phone interview that it was heading toward Redding, a city of about 90,000 people.
“If you live in West Redding start packing and be prepared!” the California Highway Patrol said on Twitter.
“This fire is out of control!”
The western fires were being supercharged by extreme temperatures above 37 deg C, erratic winds and low humidity, factors that were expected to remain on Thursday.
Further south, the Cranston Fire, believed to have been started by arson, had charred 1,900ha around 140km east of Los Angeles in the San Jacinto Mountains.
It was just 5 per cent contained, Cal Fire officials said.
That blaze had forced 3,200 people to evacuate in resort communities including Idyllwild, Mountain Centre and Lake Hemet as it destroyed five structures and threatened 2,100 homes, the agency said.
A suspect was arrested on Wednesday and accused of starting multiple fires including the Cranston Fire, fire officials said in a statement.
A third major blaze, the almost two-week-old, 17,000ha Ferguson Fire, forced much of Yosemite National Park to close on Wednesday, as it poured thick smoke into the valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains some 270km east of San Francisco.
A firefighter died and seven others have been hurt combating the blaze, which was 27 per cent contained as of Thursday morning.