Firefighters battle rapidly expanding fires in California

SMOKE ON THE WATER::California typically has fires later in the year, but a mix of strong winds and high temperatures triggered several blazes this week

AFP, MALIBU, California

Sun, May 05, 2013 - Page 1

Firefighters deployed ground crews overnight yesterday to battle a raging southern California wildfire that nearly tripled in size as it threatened 4,000 homes.

The Springs Fire, near Malibu, 65km west of Los Angeles, grew to 11,300 hectares on Friday morning.

The Ventura County Fire Department said that the blaze was just 20 percent contained.

Aerial operations ended for the night, but ground crews would continue battling the blaze, the department said.

California typically has fires later in the year, but strong winds and temperatures of about 30°C have triggered a series of brushfires this week — including a new one in Glendale, just outside Los Angeles.

In the fire near Malibu, nearly 1,000 firefighters battled wind-fanned flames that have ripped through tinder-dry brush, threatening about 4,000 homes during the day, the fire department said.

Several celebrities, including actors Jamie Foxx and Tom Selleck, live near the evacuating area, according to television reports.

Many of the homes were luxury ranches that had stables housing horses and other animals.

The fire started on Thursday, forcing the closure of a section of the Pacific Coast Highway and a university campus, and reaching a US Navy facility on the coast, reports said.

By Friday, at least 15 homes had been damaged, but none destroyed, the fire department said on its Twitter feed.

More than 950 firefighters were battling the blaze, while in the morning they said it was 10 percent contained.

The fire department initially announced the reopening of the Pacific Coast Highway at the end of the afternoon, but a short time later said it would remain closed due to concern about rockslides.

The operation, aided by firefighters from neighboring areas including Los Angeles, was complicated after winds did an about-turn and pushed the fire back north during the day, forcing further evacuations.

Eight helicopters and six planes were dropping water and fire retardant onto blazing hillsides to protect homes in the area.