Violent wildfire destroys luxury California homes

A firefighter sprays water on the remains of a burned-out home, in Laguna Niguel, California. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - A sudden and violent wildfire that tore through a luxury enclave in California destroying multi-million dollar homes in minutes was worsened by wind and the size of the properties, officials said.

The blaze, which erupted on Wednesday, grew rapidly to engulf the community of Laguna Niguel, near Los Angeles.

Around 1,000 homes were evacuated as the fire flared to 80 hectares, destroying around 20 properties.

"When you take a look at the size of the homes, there's just so much combustible material that they burn fast" said Lisa Bartlett, supervisor of Orange County, in which the district lies.

"And then the wind starts and the flames can just leap from house to house," she told the Los Angeles Times.

Orange County fire chief Brian Fennessy said the blaze was another sobering example of the vulnerability of the area as it scrapes through a decades-long megadrought.

"It's sad to say that we're getting kind of used to this," he said.

"The winds we experienced today are normal winds... We're seeing spread in ways we haven't before. Fire is spreading very quickly into this very dry vegetation and taking off."

Firefighters were working on Thursday (May 12) to douse the blaze, which was still classed as uncontained.

People gather with their luggage on a street in Laguna Niguel, California, amid a wildfire, on May 12, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

The cause of the fire was not known, but power company Southern California Edison said it had recorded "activity" in its circuits at about the same time.

Wildfires are a natural phenomenon in the western United States, but their frequency and ferocity has increased in recent years as the planet warms.

Human behaviour, including the unchecked burning of fossil fuels, is altering weather patterns, exacerbating droughts in some areas and generating unseasonal storms in others.

In California, average temperatures during the summer are 1.6 deg C higher than at the end of the 19th century.

A firefighter works to put out hotspots at one of over 20 homes destroyed by the fire, in Laguna Niguel, California. PHOTO: AFP

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