Wind fans wildfire in California canyons, residents flee

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Powerful gusts pushed flames from a wildfire through Southern California canyons on Thursday, one of several blazes that burned near homes and forced residents to flee amid elevated fire risk for most of the region that prompted utilities to cut off power to hundreds of thousands.

The biggest blaze began late Wednesday as a house fire in Orange County’s Silverado Canyon, where gusts topped 113kph.

“When crews arrived it was a fully engulfed house and the winds were extremely strong and they pushed flames into the vegetation,” said a spokeswoman for the county’s Fire Authority Colleen Windsor.

The fire grew to more than 29 square kilometres and blanketed a wide area with smoke and ash.

Crews struggled in steep terrain amid unpredictable Santa Ana winds that sent flames racing across major roads. Two firefighters were hospitalised after being treated on scene for injuries, said Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. He said their condition was not immediately known.

Some homes were damaged in the fire and possibly destroyed, Fennessy said. He said he couldn’t immediately say how many homes were affected. Evacuations were ordered for thousands of residents of canyon and foothill neighbourhoods near the city of Lake Forest — although some orders were later lifted — and residents of other nearby areas were told to be ready to get out. There was no containment of the fire.

Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists have said climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.

A resident prepares to defend his home as the Bond Fire burns through the Silverado community in Orange County, California. PHOTO: AP