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Thousands flee raging Californian wildfires

By John Antczak

Published 25/07/2016

Residents fleeing their homes as flames approach Santa Clarita, California
Residents fleeing their homes as flames approach Santa Clarita, California

Thousands of homes have been evacuated as two massive wildfires raged through California - with a burned body found in a flame-scorched area.

Firefighters have been battling a blaze since Friday that has blackened 31-square miles of brush on the edge of Santa Clarita and the Angeles National Forest. About 300 miles up the coast, crews were battling another blaze across 10 square miles north of the Big Sur region.

The body was discovered on Saturday outside a home on Iron Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, just north of Los Angeles, and detectives are trying to determine whether the person was killed by the blaze or another cause, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt Rob Hahnlein said.

The area was among those ordered evacuated as the fire raged through brush withered by days of 100-degree Celsius temperatures as Southern California sweltered through a heatwave.

After flames driven by winds swept through an evacuated area, firefighters reported that some buildings had been engulfed, but it was not immediately clear whether they were homes, outbuildings or garages, said Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the US Fire Service. The area was still unsafe, he said.

“You’ve still got hotspots in that area, a lot of smouldering stuff,” and trees that might fall because their roots had burned, he added.

More than 900 firefighters and water-dropping helicopters battled the flames overnight on several fronts.

“It’s not a one-direction type of fire,” Mr Judy said. “It’s going in different directions depending on which way the wind is blowing. It’s doing what it wants.”

Despite firefighters’ efforts, the blaze destroyed sets at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, which has Old West-style buildings used for film locations.

Smoke and ash cast a pall over Los Angeles. Air quality officials advised people with respiratory problems to stay indoors.

Bengal tigers and a mountain lion were among hundreds of animals evacuated from the Wildlife Waystation, a sanctuary for rescued exotic creatures in Sylmar. Later in the day, firefighters managed to beat back the threat.

Along the coast, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters battled the blaze in rugged mountains north of Big Sur.

The fire five miles south of Garrapata State Park posed a threat to about 1,000 homes and the community of Palo Colorado was ordered to be evacuated, the fire service added.

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