World News

California wildfires: New blaze erupts as crews brace for winds

A large new fire has broken out to the north of Los Angeles, prompting further evacuations as crews continue to battle blazes across California, some of which could be made worse by seasonal winds.

The Santa Ana winds are a regional weather phenomenon that sends gusts from desert regions east of the state to the coast of Southern California. They are forecast to reach sustained speeds of 80 to 110 kilometres per hour (50 to 70 miles per hour) on Wednesday and Thursday, raising the risk of sparks and embers being whipped into fresh wildfires in unburned areas.

It is a foreboding forecast for firefighters already battling a 240-hectare (9,600-acre) blaze, which ignited on Monday, that is consuming the shrub-covered hills to the west of Los Angeles. That blaze has already forced about 9,000 people to flee their home.

An army of some 1,100 firefighters battled the so-called Getty Fire Tuesday in a narrow window of slower winds. By early Wednesday, crews had managed to contain about 15 percent of the blaze.

The fire started when a dry branch from a eucalyptus tree was flung nine metres (30 feet) by high winds into a city Department of Water and Power line and caused sparks, authorities said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti called it an “act of God”. The city had previously cut away brush and trees from around the line, officials said.

The most recent fire also started in the southern part of state in the Simi Valley area north of Los Angeles early Wednesday. The flames forced the evacuation of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and nearby homes.

Reagan library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said the hilltop museum in Simi Valley was safe and being protected by firefighters.

The National Weather Service had issued an “extreme red flag” warning for wildfires in Los Angeles county and Ventura county, which includes the Simi Valley.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen us use this warning,” forecaster Marc Chenard told the Reuters News Agency. “It’s pretty bad.”

Statewide, the weather service issued warnings of dangerous fire weather conditions covering more than 88,000 square kilometres (34,000 square miles), encompassing some 21 million people.

Scientists have linked an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires to climate change.

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