California, USA — Powerful winds fuelled a wildfire north of Los Angeles, hampering the efforts of crews trying to protect thousands of homes after flames had already gutted five residences.
About 24 square kilometres of property and a large packaging plant were scorched in the southern California bedroom community of Moorpark.
Firefighters conceded that the fierce Santa Ana winds, pushed by gusts peaking as high as 80 km/h, have forced them into defensive mode. Rather than battle the fire directly, the more than 1,000 firefighters have shifted their focus to protecting ranches and some 3,000 houses as they work under a brown-and-orange haze.
“You don’t attack a fire with winds this extreme,” said Capt. Mike Mathiesen of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “They’re ferocious.”
The winds are not expected to diminish until at least Tuesday night, officials said, adding that helicopters hauling water have been called in to douse the ground.
Flames raced through canyons
The fire started in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday on the northwestern edge of Moorpark, sending residents out of their homes as the flames raced through canyons and over hillsides.
Some refused to leave, despite the 11-metre-high flames burning nearby. In one neighbourhood, the fire came within about 90 metres of homes, spooking horses and livestock that were later evacuated from the area.
No major injuries have been reported and the cause of the fire is under investigation.
In November, prosecutors charged Raymond Lee Oyler with five counts of murder after he was suspected of starting a wildfire in Southern California that killed five firefighters. Oyler could face the death penalty.