LOS ANGELES (AP) — Crews scrambled to protect homes from a huge wildfire that prompted evacuations north of Los Angeles, and officials warned the blaze could flare up again Thursday as a blistering heat wave descended on California.
The fire exploded in size within hours after it broke out in dense forest on Wednesday afternoon, sending up a towering plume visible for hundreds of miles around.
Flames raced across ridges and steep slopes, including in some areas that had not burned since 1968, fire officials said. By Thursday morning, the blaze had consumed nearly 16.5 square miles (42 square kilometers) of timber and brush. There was no containment.
Light winds and scattered thundershowers early in the day helped firefighters tame the flames somewhat. But as the cloud cover cleared and temperatures spiked Thursday afternoon, officials prepared for a repeat of the ferocious fire activity seen a day earlier.
“This will be a major fire for several days,” said Chief Robert Garcia with the U.S. Forest Service.
About 100 rural homes were evacuated in the Lake Hughes area of the Angeles National Forest, some 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of downtown Los Angeles.
Preliminary damage assessments found that at least three structures burned, but authorities warned the toll would likely be higher. It wasn’t immediately clear if any residences were damaged, but a photograph for The Associated Press showed what may have been a house on fire.
Kenny Reynolds lost his home.
The fire came down the hill and across the street, “engulfing on both sides,” he told KABC-TV.
Reynolds and others retreated “and then it just kind of rolled in,” he said. “It was taking everything as it kind of went down.”
Evacuation centers were designated for residents and animals, but because of COVID-19 concerns, people were told to stay in their cars in the parking lots.
The cause of the blaze, dubbed the Lake Fire, is under investigation. It’s one of several wildfires burning in the region.
Several new fires erupted Thursday. The largest was near the Los Angeles suburb of Azusa. It burned nearly 4 square miles (10.13 square kilometers) of brush but was moving away from homes. However, some evacuations were ordered.
Another blaze came dangerously close to some homes in Corona, east of Los Angeles, and another fire in eastern Sacramento County burned about 500 acres (202 hectares) before firefighters stopped its forward spread.
The heat wave was expected to last through the weekend, bringing triple-digit temperatures and extreme fire danger to large parts of California.