California blazes claim homes, force thousands to flee | News | DW | 15.08.2016
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California blazes claim homes, force thousands to flee

A wildfire has destroyed at least 175 structures in Northern California and forced 4,000 people to flee. Flames have jumped a road and moved into a town still recovering from a devastating wildfire nearly a year ago.

The Clayton Fire in Lower Lake, a town of 1,200 people about 90 miles (150 kilometers) north of San Francisco, grew over the weekend, destroying at least 175 structures and forcing 4,000 residents to flee, authorities said. With only 5 percent contained, the blaze has burned through 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) since it began on Saturday. Cal Fire has dispatched 1,044 people to fight it and assist in relief efforts.

"Emotions are still incredibly raw from the Valley Fire," state Senator Mike McGuire said at a community meeting and press conference, referring to a 2015 blaze that killed four people and destroyed more than 1,300 homes.

Firefighters struggled to get a handle on the blaze as temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 C) and winds gusted. By Sunday, staff at a hospital in Clearlake, a neighboring town of about 15,000, rushed to transfer 16 patients to another hospital, and firefighters carried goats and other animals to safety as homes burned around them.

"The fire behavior remains intense," Cal Fire reported, noting that emergency services had struggled to gain access because of rough terrain.

State on fire

California, the most populous of the 50 US states, currently faces 11 wildfires. A blaze near Central California's Lake Nacimiento, about 180 miles northwest of Los Angeles, burned 20 structures and threatened 150 homes after expanding from 2 square miles to 7 from Saturday into Sunday, Cal Fire spokesman Bennet Milloy said. The blaze shifted north toward the lake, leading authorities to evacuate some residents by boat.

Now 60 percent contained, the Soberanes fire has killed one bulldozer operator, injured three other people and burned over 72,500 acres. More than 4,100 personnel have gone to fight that blaze north of Big Sur, one of the region's most popular tourist draws with its sharp cliffs rising above the Pacific Ocean. Authorities blame that inferno, which has destroyed 57 homes and 11 outbuildings, on an illegal campfire.

In Southern California, forecasters warned of high fire danger from gusty winds coupled with the heat wave. Ventura and Los Angeles counties face increased risk of wildfires through at least Wednesday, the US National Weather Service reported.

Scientists say climate change has created new risks for California, already a hot state and now severely parched thanks to a five-year drought. Thousands of residents were evacuated during wildfires in June and July.

mkg/rc (AFP, AP)

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