Thousands evacuated as fast-moving fires spread in California

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Thousands of residents fled a city in northern California on Wednesday as a series of fast-moving fires spread overnight, burning dozens of homes and structures.

The fire outside Vacaville, a city of about 100,000 residents located near the state capital Sacramento, is part of a series of blazes that have scorched nearly 50,000 acres in northern California in recent days.

“If you’re asked to evacuate, please do so SAFELY,” Vacaville police said on Twitter.

“Practically every single first responder unit in town is actively working to safely notify, evacuate and fight the fires, so our residents are safe.”

Some residents of Vacaville heeded the evacuation orders dressed only in their pajamas as the flames surged across roadways and gas lines exploded at several residences.

Multiple people suffered burns as they ran for their lives.

A cameraman films flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires in Vacaville, California. Fire crews across the region scrambled to contain dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes. PHOTO: AP
Burned out vehicles sit under a burned tree at a residence in Vacaville, California during the LNU Lightning Complex fire. PHOTO: AFP

Fire officials said the blaze was zero per cent contained early on Wednesday and threatened some 1,900 structures in the area.

One woman described fleeing the inferno with her husband, who suffered burns in his car and was forced to abandon the vehicle.

“I had all these flames on me and I lost my shoe but I made it,” she said.

The group of fires – known collectively as the LNU Lightning Complex and taking place as the state faces a torrid heat wave – so far destroyed dozens of buildings or structures in three counties.

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to facilitate the release of emergency funds.

“We are deploying every resource available to keep communities safe as California battles fires across the state during these extreme conditions,” Newsom said.

“California and its federal and local partners are working in lockstep to meet the challenge and remain vigilant in the face of continued dangerous weather conditions.”

Firefighters said in total, some 30 fires across the state torched some 120,000 acres.

The LNU fire – which was sparked by a lightning storm earlier in the week in the Bay Area – affected Sonoma, Lake, Napa and Solano counties, parts of which are still recovering from similar devastating blazes in recent years.

The wildfires are spreading largely uncontrolled and have intensified because of the record-breaking heat.

In the past week, California’s Death Valley has been experiencing historic high temperatures, with the mercury rising as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nearly 45 million people across the western United States (US) were under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory on Wednesday.

The scorching temperatures put a massive strain on the state’s power network, with blackouts leaving some 30,000 people without service, according to Power outage.

Last week, brush fires near Lake Hughes, just north of Los Angeles, burned more than 10,000 acres and prompted the evacuation of 500 homes.

Wildfires have become more frequent and bigger in California in recent years, in part driven by climate change.

The deadliest fire in the state’s history – the Camp Fire – took place in northern California in November 2018 and killed 86 people.

Also on Wednesday, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency over a series of wildfires.

“Wildfires are threatening the safety and livelihoods of Washingtonians all across the state,” Inslee said in a statement.

“And the COVID-19 pandemic put additional strain on our resources, as some of our usual support is further limited due to international movement restrictions.”