Firefighters race to contain California wildfires as winds set to strengthen

Firefighters in Southern California were under pressure on Saturday to contain six raging wildfires, which have destroyed hundreds of buildings and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, before fierce winds are expected to strengthen again.

The six major wildfires that erupted throughout Southern California in the past week have killed at least one person, destroyed hundreds of buildings, forced more than 200,000 people to flee and choked the air across much of the region.

Forecasters predict wind gusts to become more intense by Saturday night, challenging the 8,700 firefighters who have been battling the fast-moving blazes for five days.

The winds “potentially put the fires that are currently burning at risk of spreading,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokesperson for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Forecasters predict wind gusts to increase in intensity by Saturday night, challenging the 8,700 firefighters who have been battling the fast-moving blazes for five days from the San Diego area up the Pacific Coast to Santa Barbara County. The fires killed at least one person, destroyed 500 structures, hurt six people and injured four firefighters.

California’s Gov. Jerry Brown planned to meet at midday with residents and officials in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, where officials said the largest of the blazes, the Thomas Fire, has charred 59,893 hectares and destroyed 537 structures.

“We’re going to recover. Have no doubt about that,” the governor said on Twitter Friday.


A photo taken from the International Space Station and moved on social media by astronaut Randy Bresnik shows smoke rising from wildfires burning in Southern California. (Courtesy @AstroKomrade/NASA/Handout via Reuters)

The spreading fires prompted Brown to issue emergency proclamations earlier this week for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, while U.S. President Donald Trump issued a federal proclamation that enables agencies to co-ordinate relief efforts.

The fires have put property worth billions of dollars at risk in California, where wildfires in the northern part of the state in October resulted in insured losses of more than $ 9 billion. Those fires, concentrated in the state’s wine country, killed 43 people.

The current fires, which have threatened Californians from near Santa Barbara County down the Pacific coast to Mexico, have claimed at least one human casualty.


Yvonne Seabold, left, and Richard Seabold sit in an emergency shelter on Friday after leaving their home due to a wildfire in Ventura, Calif. (Alex Dobuzinskis/Reuters)

Officials determined late Friday that a 70-year-old Ventura County woman who died after a car crash along an evacuation route on Wednesday suffered smoke inhalation and burns, the Ventura County Star newspaper reported, citing medical examiner Christopher Young.

Ventura County officials, who have contained 15 per cent of the Thomas Fire, said they expect to increase their containment of the blaze later on Saturday.

At their peak, the fires drove about 212,000 Californians from their homes. Evacuation orders now have been lifted in some areas, welcome news for many in shelters waiting to see if their homes survived.

North of San Diego, the Lilac Fire destroyed 105 structures after swelling to 1,659 hectares in a few hours on Thursday.

Nearly two dozen thoroughbred horses said to be killed in California fires0:50

Fallbrook, known for its avocado orchards, burned, and homes were destroyed in its Rancho Monserate Country Club retirement community. Blazes approached the Camp Pendleton marine base.

A 500-stall stable for thoroughbred race horses at San Luis Rey Downs training site burned late on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported.

An estimated 25 to 30 horses died, in addition to 29 horses killed in Los Angeles earlier in the week. A trainer suffered second- and third-degree burns over half her body trying to rescue horses, the newspaper said. She was airlifted to a San Diego hospital and placed in a medically induced coma.

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