Tens of thousands evacuated as California wildfires rage

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Wind-driven wildfires forced the evacuation of about 100,000 people in southern California on Friday and destroyed dozens of structures and homes as authorities warned it could take days to extinguish the flames.

By Friday evening, the strongest blaze, dubbed the Saddleridge Fire, had consumed 3,052 hectares in areas of the San Fernando Valley, about 32 kilometres north of downtown Los Angeles, fire officials said.

They added that it had damaged or destroyed at least 31 structures and was 13 per cent contained as of Friday evening.

One man in his 50s died of a heart attack as he struggled to save his home in the Porter Ranch area, fire officials said.

The fire quickly got out of control after it erupted late Thursday for unknown reasons in the city of Sylmar, driven by low humidity and gusts known as the Santa Ana winds.

“This is a very dynamic fire,” Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas told a news conference. “Do not wait to leave,” he urged residents. “If we ask you to evacuate, please evacuate.”

He said some 1,000 firefighters, backed by water-dropping helicopters and planes releasing fire retardants, were battling the blaze that forced the shutdown of several major highways. The metro line in the area was also closed as were schools and businesses.

Firefighters battle the Saddleridge fire in Sylmar, California. PHOTO: AP