Fanned by strong winds and high temperatures, the wildfire outside LA has prompted chaotic scenes as families scrambled to flee
A wildfire fanned by strong winds and 100F (37C) temperatures has ripped through rural communities outside Los Angeles, unleashing fire tornados and triggering evacuation orders for more than 80,000 people.
The so-called Blue Cut fire flared 60 miles east of LA on Tuesday and swiftly scorched 9,000 acres, sending walls of flame down the Cajon Pass and surrounding areas and prompting chaotic scenes as families scrambled to flee.
Television footage captured a fire tornado, more accurately known as a fire whirl, a phenomenon in which flames and gusts combine to form whirling eddies.
California’s governor, Jerry Brown, declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino county on Tuesday. The Red Cross set up emergency shelters for evacuees, including one for animals.
“There is imminent threat to public safety, rail traffic and structures. Please follow the evacuation instructions, as this is a very quickly growing wildfire,” said the state incident information system. “An estimated 34,500 homes and 82,640 people are being affected by the evacuation warnings.”
Sheriff’s deputies scrambled to enforce mandatory evacuation orders for rural communities in Baldy Mesa, Lytle Creek, Wrightwood, Old Cajon Road, Lone Pine Canyon, West Cajon Valley and Swarthout Canyon. It was unclear how many people obeyed the order to leave.
The fire blazed out of control despite efforts by 700 firefighters backed by 57 engines and 10 air tankers. They requested reinforcements and braced for a long night ahead.
Flames trapped six firefighters who were defending homes in Swarthout Canyon. They found shelter but two suffered minor injuries, officials said.
Strong gusts, drought-parched terrain and a heat wave fueled the fire. The flames shut down a section of Interstate 15, the main highway between southern California and Las Vegas, complicating evacuations.
It was the latest blaze in what is proving to be an especially destructive, unpredictable fire season in western states.
Recent fires have claimed hundreds of homes and killed eight people in California – an ominous record because traditional fire season starts only in autumn with the arrival of hot Santa Ana winds.
It’s part of a trend of drier winters, warmer springs and hotter summers. Climate change has extended the west’s traditional fire season by 78 days since the 1970s, running from June to October. Fires start earlier and burn longer.
The US’s lower 48 states just experienced the hottest June on record, surpassing 1933 dust bowl records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Original source: The Guardian