Thousands evacuated as Californian fire spreads

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The Independent US

Thousands of people fled yesterday as firefighters battled to save homes in California from a wildfire that spread rapidly during the night. A man was charged with starting the blaze.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 homes had been evacuated near Corona in Riverside County, southern California, since midnight because they were threatened by the blaze, said Rick Griggs, an engineer with the California Department of Forestry. Mr Griggs said he had unconfirmed reports that four buildings had been destroyed or damaged.

Julie Hutchinson, a spokeswoman, said a man named as Richard Drew Brown had been arrested on suspicion of "recklessly causing the fire with equipment". She said officials believed Mr Brown "didn't intentionally inflict damage. He did something that was negligent."

Mr Griggs said another blaze in Riverside County had damaged "multiple structures" during the night but he did not know if the buildings were homes.

Southern California's 2004 "fire season" opened on Monday - three weeks earlier than usual - as temperatures soared above 100F (37C). Altogether the Riverside County fires burnt across a total of more than 9,000 acres.At least two people fleeing a fire in the Los Padres National Forest were treated for smoke inhalation.