California wildfires: First death confirmed as flames continue to rage

The woman, 70, was found dead along an evacuation route near Los Angeles

Saturday 09 December 2017 12:46
The blaze has been driven by dry desert winds
The blaze has been driven by dry desert winds

Wildfires in southern California killed a woman as they destroyed more than 500 buildings, killed dozens of horses and forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate.

Burning nearly 250 square miles since Monday, blazes whipped up by ferocious winds were blown quickly over huge areas near Los Angeles.

Authorities said 1,000 firefighters have been battling the flames with help from a fleet of air tankers and helicopters.

On Friday, the first fire-related death was confirmed by the Ventura County medical examiner's office.

Virignia Pesola, 70, of Santa Paula, was found dead on Wednesday night along an evacuation route near a fire northwest of Los Angeles.

Her death was caused by crash injuries, smoke inhalation and burns, the medical examiner's office said in a statement.

Driven by dry desert Santa Ana winds that surpassed 35 mph, some of the blazes have been too fast for firefighters to stop the flames.

"The crews were trying to stay out ahead of this as quickly as they could," said Captain Kendal Bortisser of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

"As we know, when a tornado hits the Midwest, there's no stopping it. When a hurricane hits the East Coast, there's no stopping it. When Santa Ana winds come in, there's no stopping them," Capt. Bortisser said.

Firefighters northwest of Los Angeles gained some control over the largest and most destructive fire in the state, which destroyed 430 buildings.

The blaze in Ventura County grew to 206 square miles after igniting on Monday, while a fire 50 miles north of San Diego ignited for unknown reasons and destroyed at least 85 structures as it burned 6 square miles.

Fire crews made enough progress against other large fires around LA to lift most evacuation orders.

Horse trainers took stock of the damage at the elite San Luis Rey Downs training facility for thoroughbreds in Bonsall, where many of the more than 450 horses were cut loose to prevent them from being trapped in burning stables.

Most of the loose horses were corralled and taken to another location, but about 25 died as barns and pasture burned.

Crews were also dispatched to stamp out a small new fire that began to the east in the Cleveland National Forest near the mountain town of Alpine.


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