Wildfires threaten thousands of homes in Southern California

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 26, 2015 1:49 PM

By Victoria Cavaliere

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two wildfires burning in parched forestland east of Los Angeles were threatening thousands of structures on Friday as crews battled to contain the blazes before shifts in the wind push them into new territory, officials said.

Mandatory evacuation orders for about a half-dozen communities in the San Bernardino National Forest remained in effect on Friday, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Other evacuation orders could be issued if the fires continued to expand, it said.

The blazes are among hundreds of separate wildfires burning from Alaska to Arizona as the U.S. West enters a wildfire season that experts fear could be especially destructive due to a crippling drought in California and parts of the Southwest and record-low snowpack in the Pacific Northwest.

The larger of the two blazes in Southern California, the Lake fire, had grown to 29,813 acres by early Friday and was 19 percent contained, according to the fire-tracking website InciWeb, which gathers information from multiple agencies.

More than 7,300 homes and structures were threatened and four firefighters have been injured battling the blaze, officials said.

A much smaller fire, the Sterling fire, was burning near the city of San Bernardino, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Work containing that blaze was temporarily halted on Thursday because of a civilian drone aircraft in the area, InciWeb reported. Firefighters have asked that people not operate drones near the fire containment operations.

In Alaska, about 300 separate wildfires were burning across the state, marking an unusually early and busy start to its wildfire season, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Although many of the blazes were sparked in remote forests, some were getting close to populated areas, Alaska fire officials said.

The village of Aniak in the southwestern part of the state asked residents to evacuate because of the heavy layer of smoke from a nearby blaze.

"The fire is getting close to their houses," city manager Megan Leary told the Alaska Dispatch News. "It's really scary stuff."

In Washington state, where record-low snowpack prompted Governor Jay Inslee to declare a statewide drought emergency in May, cooler temperatures and higher humidity levels helped slow the growth of a blaze in the Olympic National Forest, InciWeb reported.

A heat wave forecast from Washington state to New Mexico in coming days will make conditions ripe for new wildfires to erupt, according to forecasting site AccuWeather.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bill Trott)