California wildfire puts 1,300 homes at risk as Santa Ana winds whip flames

About 4,000 residents were evacuated southeast of Los Angeles as the blaze remained completely uncontained

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Tuesday 31 October 2023 21:55 GMT
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<p>A structure is engulfed in flames as the Highland Fire burns in Aguanga, California on Monday, October 30, 2023</p>

A structure is engulfed in flames as the Highland Fire burns in Aguanga, California on Monday, October 30, 2023

A wildfire that erupted in Southern California has grown to 2,200 acres overnight and remains completely uncontained, according to emergency officials.

The Highland Fire started around 12.30pm on Monday in Aguanga, a tiny town located in a rural, hilly area of Riverside County, southeast of Los Angeles.

Around 1,300 homes and 4,000 residents were under evacuation orders, Cal Fire said. There is a continued threat to structures with road closures and evacuation orders in place.

An evacuation center was opened 20 miles away at a high school in Temecula.

The flames were being whipped by 20-25mph Santa Ana winds. The blustery, dry gusts, which blow out of the desert in Southern California, are at their worst from October to January. The fire conditions are being exacerbated by low humidity.

The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning of extreme fire danger through Tuesday afternoon for parts of Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

A structure is engulfed in flames as a wildfire called the Highland Fire burns in Aguanga, Calif., Monday, Oct. 30, 2023

The fire had already ripped through a handful of buildings in the area but it was unclear if any homes were destroyed. No injuries were reported.

Officials were hopeful that winds would ease on Tuesday, and that they could “box in” the wildfire with 300 firefighters, bulldozers, three air tankers and three helicopters.

The Highland Fire is one of the few large and active blazes in California in 2023, where fire season has failed to reach the monstrous proportions of recent years.

More than 315,000 acres have burned in California this year, according to Cal Fire, a significant drop from the 1.1million acre five-year average.

The fire’s evacuation zone in southern California

In part, this has been due to historic rains from at least 30 atmospheric rivers which have impacted the state this year and led to catastrophic flooding.

Fire season in California used to run from May until October, however the impacts of the climate crisis have now made wildfires a year-round possibility.

Larger, more intense fires are fuelled by extreme heat and drought. These conditions are driven by a climate crisis caused largely by carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Beyond California, 2023 has been broken records for the scale of wildfires across the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters douse flames while battling the Highland Fire in Aguanga on Monday

The US witnessed its deadliest wildfire in more than a century in Hawaii this summer after large parts of the historic town of Lahaina on Maui was destroyed.

The Canadian wildfire season has been off the charts - with hundreds of fires burning for months from coast to coast. The burned area has been more than six times the 10-year average.

The average person in the US has breathed in more harmful wildfire smoke in 2023 than in any year since 2006, according to Climate Central.

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