Hundreds of firefighters are battling a blaze that is threatening homes in pandemic-stricken Southern California. Power companies have cut electricity to hundreds of thousands of residents as a precaution.
A wildfire propelled by wind gusts exceeding 70 miles per hour (113 kilometers per hour) was spreading through canyons in Southern California on Thursday, burning homes and forcing residents to flee.
The blaze, named the Bond Fire, began as a house fire within Orange County's Silverado Canyon late Wednesday before exploding to nearly 4,000 acres (1620 hectares) overnight. By Thursday morning, a massive smoke plume visible for miles billowed above the region.
With zero percent containment and the fire spreading, evacuations were ordered for several canyon and foothill neighborhoods near the city of Lake Forest, population 85,600, located about 40 miles (60 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles.
Orange County Fire Authority Captain Thanh Nguyen said crews were scrambling to stay ahead of flames that jumped major roads. Officials said at least two firefighters were hospitalized with injuries.
The authority urged other area residents to prepare to flee at a moment's notice, and find shelter in hotels or with family or friends despite southern California's worsening coronavirus outbreak.
As a precautionary measure, utilities in the area cut power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses to avoid downed electrical wires spreading the fire further.
Southern California Edison said it was considering de-energizing lines serving almost 300,000 customers in seven counties throughout the windy period, which could last into Saturday.
This year has already been California's most devastating fire year yet. As of the end of November, more than 6,500 square miles (16,835 square kilometers) have been scorched, a total area more than half the size of Belgium.
At least 31 people have been killed and 10,500 homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.
Numerous studies have linked the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires throughout the western United States, Australia and worldwide to climate change, itself due to the burning of coal, oil and fossil gas.
According to scientists, the climate crisis has made California much drier, meaning trees and plants are more flammable.
Earlier this year, the Los Angeles metropolitan area logged its hottest day on record, with temperatures hitting 120.9 degrees Fahrenheit (49.4 degrees Celsius) in September.
This latest fire comes as much of California plunges even deeper into drought, meaning wildfires are likely to continue through the end of the year.
mb/nm (AP, Reuters)