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Wildfire closes highways in California

December 26, 2015

Hundreds of firefighters were battling a large bushfire in Southern California, with the blaze prompting authorities to evacuate a town. In the southern US, residents faced a massive clean-up following deadly tornadoes.

USA Kalifornien Brände
Image: Reuters/G. Blevins

US authorities shut off sections of the 101 highway, a major traffic link connecting the north and south of the country along the Pacific coast, Ventura county fire department spokeswoman Heather Sumagaysay said Saturday.

Officials had deployed more than 600 firefighters to battle the blaze in Solimar Beach, she added.

The firefighters had yet to contain the wildfire, which is "being pushed by a strong northwest wind," according to the Ventura county emergency information website.

Some 30 homes were in danger in Solimar Beach, a town located between Santa Barbara to the north and Malibu to the south, some 105 kilometers (65 miles) northwest of Los Angeles.

The fire department has committed resources to fight the flames for the next two to three days, according to Sumagaysay. Due to the high winds, however, the authorities did not know how long it would take to contain it.

Town evacuated

The blaze has burned through some 1,100 acres (445 hectares) since it started late Friday. It also swept through an area with an extensive network of oil wells and underground pipelines, another fire department spokesman, Mike Lindbery, told the AFP news agency.

However, Lindbery added that he did not believe the oil had been ignited.

The US officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for Solimar Beach, as well as a voluntary evacuation notice for the neighboring Faria Beach community.

Years of heavy drought in California have dried up the vegetation and the soil, leaving it especially vulnerable to wildfires.

Winter tornadoes hitting the south

The unseasonably warm weather also caused several major storms across the US, which killed at least 14 people.

More than a dozen tornadoes were reported in six different states, with the southern state of Mississippi hardest hit.

The storms also caused property damage from Alabama in the south all the way to Illinois in the north, hitting several states along a corridor colloquially referred to as "tornado alley."

Meteorologists warned that severe weather was still possible in several regions, highlighting especially Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma.

dj/se (AFP, Reuters)