Unseasonable wildfires break out in California

AFP-JIJI

A raging California wildfire nearly doubled in size Friday, although firefighters said they gained more control over it and allowed the state’s scenic coastal highway to reopen.

The Springs Fire near Malibu, around 65 km west of Los Angeles, grew to 7,300 hectares from just over 4,000 hectares in the morning, but firefighters had contained 20 percent of it, compared to 10 percent at the start of the day.

California typically experiences fires later in the year, but strong winds and temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius triggered a series of brush fires last week — including a new one Friday in Glendale, just outside Los Angeles.

In the blaze near Malibu, nearly 1,000 firefighters battled wind-fanned flames that have ripped through tinder-dry brush. Some 4,000 homes were at risk during the day, according to the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD).

Some celebrities, including actors Jamie Foxx and Tom Selleck, live near the evacuation area, KTLA 5 television reported.

The fire started Thursday, forcing the closure of a 13-km section of the Pacific Coast Highway and a university campus, and reached a U.S. Navy facility on the coast, reports said.

By Friday, no homes had been destroyed but at least 15 had been damaged, VCFD said. More than 950 firefighters were battling the blaze, with more expected to arrive from neighboring counties and from Los Angeles.

The VCFD announced the reopening of the coastal highway during the late afternoon, while warning that other roads could remain closed.

The operation was complicated by winds that did an about-turn and pushed the fire back north during the day, forcing further evacuations.

California State University, Channel Islands, said it remained closed after all classes and activities at its Camarillo campus were canceled Thursday “due to the (fire) and heavy smoke drifting onto the campus.”

Wildfires are common across the western U.S. during summer. In Southern California, they are often fanned by the strong offshore Santa Ana winds later in the year, in the fall or winter.

But the other blaze that erupted Friday in Glendale, a residential suburb just north of Los Angeles, has burned some 30 hectares of brush and forced local evacuations and the closure a nearby freeway.