Strong Winds Continue to Fuel California Wildfires

    08 December, 2017

    Firefighters continue to fight wildfires in southern California, including a new fire just north of San Diego.

    In the past five days, the fires have destroyed at least 500 buildings and forced 190,000 people to leave their homes, California officials said.

    More than 5,700 people, some in helicopters, are trying to slow the spread of six large wildfires and other smaller blazes. They are spraying and dropping water, as well as fire retardant, in the affected areas.

    The wildfires have been burning since Monday. They are causing destruction along the Pacific coast, from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County, 170 kilometers to the north. The fires are powered by Santa Ana winds -- hot, dry air that blows from east to west.

    Fire crews work among destroyed homes at the Rancho Monserate Country Club community Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Fallbrook, Calif.
    Fire crews work among destroyed homes at the Rancho Monserate Country Club community Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Fallbrook, Calif.

    The biggest blaze is the Thomas Fire, about 90 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles. It is nearly 52,000 hectares in size and has destroyed about 430 buildings. However, firefighters have made enough progress against the Los Angeles area fires to cancel most evacuation orders.

    A new fire, named the Lilac Fire, forced California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for San Diego County, more than 200 kilometers south of Los Angeles.

    The Lilac Fire started on Thursday and grew to 16 square kilometers in a few hours. It moved through the heavily populated Rancho Monserate Country Club community and the small city of Fallbrook, home to many avocado farms and horse ranches.

    The fire forced people to leave their homes as it destroyed homes and burned an area near a training center for thoroughbred horses.

    Workers freed more than 450 horses to avoid being trapped, said Mac McBride of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Some horses did not survive, and one trainer said at least 30 horses died.

    The fire burned near Camp Pendleton, a large base for the United States Marine Corps.

    California state fire officials said the Santa Ana winds from the California desert and the extremely dry conditions are expected to continue until Sunday.

    The Los Angeles Unified School District, the U.S.'s second largest with 640,000 students, closed more than 275 schools for a second day on Friday. The University of California in Santa Barbara also closed.

    The fires crossed major roads and threatened small coastal communities between Ventura and Santa Barbara.

    Fires are common in Southern California before the winter rains begin. This year is very bad because of unusually hot, dry and windy conditions.

    Two weeks ago, wildfires in Northern California killed 44 people. Those fires destroyed 8,900 homes and other buildings.

    California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported on Tuesday that more than 400,000 hectares of land have burned this year. That number does not include the fires burning now.

    I'm Susan Shand.


    Words in This Story

    spray - v. liquid that is forced out of a container in a stream of very small drops

    retardant - adj. able to slow down the progress or development of something

    blaze - n. an intense and dangerous fire

    thoroughbred - n. a fast horse used mainly for racing

    ranchn. a large farm for raising horses or cattle

    evacuation n. the act of people being told to leave an area, usually for safety reasons