Flames roar through central California homes; thousands flee
Dozens of homes burned to the ground as a wildfire raged over ridges and tore through rural communities in central California, authorities said.
The streaking blaze that destroyed at least 80 homes and other buildings northeast of Bakersfield around Lake Isabella ignited Thursday as many others across the West were calming.
Some houses were already little more than embers on the ground, while others were deep in flames. No injuries were reported, but several thousand people were forced to evacuate.
"I've never been in a wildland fire where I've seen so many homes burn," Kern County fire Capt. Tyler Townsend said. "It's one of the most devastating I've ever seen."
The blaze broke out amid temperatures in the 90s and low humidity, climbing over at least three ridges into hillside neighborhoods, Townsend said. It has burned over 7 square miles, and about 1,500 homes are threatened.
Hillside homes along dirt roads were consumed by heavy flames in Squirrel Mountain Valley, a community of about 500 people. Smoky haze could be seen for miles around, and orange flames lit the evening air as planes and helicopters dropped water and retardant.
Many of the houses in the area have propane tanks that added to the danger, and some residents were refusing to evacuate, Townsend said.
Elsewhere in California, cooler weather helped crews fighting two fires that burned more than 8 square miles of chaparral and brush in the Angeles National Forest and foothill communities northeast of Los Angeles. The fires were partially contained.
More than 1,300 homes in Duarte and Azusa were evacuated during the four-day-old blaze, but about half have been cleared for residents to return.
Near the border with Mexico, an 11-square-mile fire was partially contained after burning five homes about 40 miles southeast of San Diego. Most evacuees were allowed to go home Thursday.
In Colorado, a forest fire near the Wyoming line threatened about 40 cabins after exploding in size to more than 8 square miles, officials said. Shifting winds sent the blaze surging from a single square mile.
Trees killed by a beetle infestation fueled the flames in and around Routt National Forest, 140 miles north of Denver and 2 miles from Wyoming. The deadwood made it too dangerous to send in crews to battle the flames, so they were attacking the fire's perimeter, fire information officer Brian Scott said.
The weather was cooler, but firefighters were keeping an eye on the sky. There was a chance of thunderstorms that could bring dangerously erratic wind and little rain.
"Then it's anybody's guess where those flames will go," Scott said.
In eastern Arizona, firefighters managed to corral nearly half of a fire that roared through about 67 square miles of pine, juniper and brush on an Apache Indian reservation.
Crews managed to light backfires that drew a "black line" around the south end of the blaze, fire information spokeswoman Rita Baysinger said.
"They're really working their hearts out, and I think we've turned a corner," she said.
Still, more than 15,000 people in Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low and nearby mountain communities have been told to be ready to evacuate if necessary.
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