More than 80,000 people have been told to leave their homes as a raging California wildfire spread over 50 square miles of mountain and desert.
Five years of drought have turned the state’s wildlands into a tinder box, with eight fires currently burning from Shasta County in the far north to Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego, on the border with Mexico.
The Associated Press said that east of Los Angeles, firefighters were battling the so-called Blue Cut Fire, and trying to contain flames that were swallowing homes amid hot, dry and gusty weather. Firefighters had managed to carve containment lines around only four per cent of the fire.
“There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing,” said county Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, after flying over a fire scene he described as devastating.
“It hit hard. It hit fast. It hit with an intensity that we hadn’t seen before.”
One evacuee, Shawn Brady, said he had been told by a neighbour that flames had raged down their street.
“What I’ve been told is that flames are currently ripping through my house,” said Mr Brady, a dockworker who lives on the outskirts of the evacuated town of Wrightwood. “I’m trying to remain optimistic. It’s the not knowing that’s the worst.”
Much of the fire, named for the narrow gorge north of San Bernardino where it started, is burning in uninhabited areas between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, but populated areas also have been affected.
Reuters said that about a dozen school districts and a hospital clinic, all of which were closed on Thursday, were threatened by the blaze.
State transit officials said northbound lanes of Interstate 15, a highway from Los Angeles and Las Vegas which was closed earlier in the week, would reopen in the area by the end of Thursday.
Giant smoke columns rising from the fire could been seen from space in images captured on Wednesday by a Nasa satellite, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The news agency said the cause of the fire was under investigation.
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