State of emergency as California fights ′firenadoes′ | News | DW | 18.08.2016
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State of emergency as California fights 'firenadoes'

A wildfire continues to spread across California's mountains and desert. Emergency teams have battled wildfires in the drought-struck US state for months.

Just 4 percent under control, the Blue Cut fire has destroyed dozens of houses and forced 80,000 people to flee their homes, officials said. Firefighters have struggled to tally the damage while still battling the blaze, which has reached 25,626 acres (10,370 hectares) and is named for the narrow gorge north of San Bernardino where it started on Tuesday.

"There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing," county fire chief Mark Hartwig said. He added: "It hit hard. It hit fast. It hit with an intensity that we hadn't seen before."

The cause of the Blue Cut fire, located in a densely transited section of Interstate 15, which runs from the US-Mexico border to the Canadian frontier, remains unknown. Officials have yet to report any deaths, though cadaver dogs searched the ruins for anyone potentially overrun by the flames and "firenadoes," or whirlwindlike blazes. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, just 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.

"In my 40 years of fighting fire, I've never seen fire behavior so extreme as it was yesterday," incident commander Michael Wakoski told a news conference Wednesday.

'People in there'

More than 34,000 households remain under evacuation warnings as firefighters have concentrated their efforts on saving homes in the mountain communities of Lytle Creek, Wrightwood and Phelan. They implored residents not to think twice if told to leave, but it appears that many have chosen to stay.

"From reports that we were hearing, possibly up to half didn't leave," said Lyn Sieliet, a US Forest Service spokeswoman. "It does change the way that we can fight fire," she added. "Now we have to worry about the people in there as well as trying to protect the structures and trying to build a line of defense as the fire comes toward that area."

Up to 10 air tankers, 15 helicopters and 1,500 firefighters continue to take on the blaze. Many came fresh from other California conflagrations, though the numbers included first responders from neighboring states and the National Guard.

North of San Francisco, firefighters have contained 50 percent of a blaze that reached 6 square miles (15.5 square kilometers) and destroyed at least 175 homes and eight businesses in the working-class community of Lower Lake over the weekend. A suspected arsonist has appeared in court in connection with the Clayton Fire.

A half-decade drought has left California extremely flammable; eight fires currently burn - from Shasta in the north to Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. US government forecasters say the dryness and heat means that Southern California faces a potential threat from major wildfires until at least December. Santa Ana winds, which sweep desert air to California's coast, generally kick up in September.

mkg /tj (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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