Firefighters continued to battle several wind-fueled wildfires in southern California Friday, including a new rapidly expanding blaze that erupted north of San Diego.
Over the past five days, the fires have destroyed at least 500 structures and forced about 190,000 people to evacuate their homes, officials said.
More than 5,700 firefighters, accompanied by helicopters, are spraying and dumping water and fire retardant to slow the spread of six large wildfires and other smaller blazes that have erupted since Monday.
The fires, stoked by relentless westward Santa Ana winds, are torching areas along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County, more than 170 kilometers to the north.
The biggest and most destructive blaze is the Thomas Fire, about 90 kilometers northwest of the city of Los Angeles. It has grown to more than 466 square kilometers hectares and destroyed about 430 buildings. Firefighters have made enough progress against the Los Angeles area fires to lift most evacuation orders.
A new blaze called the Lilac Fire forced Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for San Diego County, more than 200 kilometers south of Los Angeles. After it broke out Thursday, it grew to 16 square kilometers in mere hours as it swept through the densely populated Rancho Monserate Country Club community and the small city of Fallbrook, home to numerous horse ranches and avocado orchards.
The Lilac Fire forced evacuations as it consumed rows of trailer homes and approached the elite San Luis Rey Downs training facility for thoroughbreds. Many of the more than 450 horses were freed from their stables to avoid being trapped in a fire, said Mac McBride of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. As the horses galloped past flaming palm trees, some did not survive. It was not immediately clear how many died, but horse trainer Scott Hansen said at least 30 of the facilities horses did not survive.
The CAL Fire state agency said the hot dry winds from the California desert and the extremely low humidity conditions are expected to continue through Sunday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second largest with more than 640,000 students, closed more than one-fourth of its nearly 1,100 schools for a second day on Friday. Classes were also cancelled at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Fires are not uncommon in Southern California this time of year before the winter rains set in, when the vegetation is tinder dry and winds blast the region. This year, however, has been a particularly bad for California fires due to dry, hot and windy conditions that would be extreme for any season, including the winter season that is just two weeks away.
Just weeks ago, wildfires that broke out in Northern California killed 44 people and destroyed 8,900 homes and other buildings.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Tuesday wildfires have burned more than 400,000 hectares so far this year. The data does not take into account the fires currently burning.