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Wildfires prompt evacuation of 100,000 from Los Angeles area

The latest threats came amid what meteorologists called the strongest onslaught of extreme winds – and lowest humidity levels – yet documented during an already epic California wildfire season ranked as the worst on record in terms of area burnt.

Firefighter Raymond Vasquez battles the Silverado Fire on Monday, October 26, in Irvine, California.

Firefighter Raymond Vasquez battles the Silverado Fire on Monday, October 26, in Irvine, California.Credit:AP

Fires have scorched more than 16,500 square kilometres – equivalent to the land mass of the state of Hawaii – since the start of the year, with thousands of homes destroyed and 31 lives lost.

Red flag warnings for incendiary weather conditions remained in place across much of California due to winds gusting in excess of 129 km/h, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Illustrating the hazards posed by California’s latest bout of desert-born winds, a blaze dubbed the Silverado fire erupted early Monday and spread across 2913 hectares of Orange County by late afternoon, county fire authority spokesman Thanh Nguyen told Reuters.

No property losses were immediately reported. But two firefighters among some 500 personnel battling the flames with bulldozers and hand tools were hospitalised with severe burns, authorities said.

A second Orange County blaze, the Blueridge fire, later broke out near Yorba Linda and has charred roughly 485 hectares, Nguyen said. Local television news footage showed at least one home gutted by flames.

An estimated 1170 homes were under evacuation orders from that blaze, the county fire authority said on Twitter late on Monday.

PRECAUTIONARY OUTAGES

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Utility company Southern California Edison reported shutting off electricity to 21,000 homes and businesses as a precautionary measure in the face of elevated fire risks posed by dangerous winds.

Hundreds of miles away, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said it had cut off power to more than 350,000 of its customers for the same reason.

Wind-damaged electrical lines have been implicated in causing dozens of devastating California wildfires in recent years, and utilities have increasingly resorted to such “public safety power shut-offs” to reduce the risk.

By midday, PG&E said it was beginning to restore services to some customers “where it is safe to do so,” with most of the shut-offs expected to be ended by Tuesday night as winds abated.

The latest outbreak of fires cap a summer of record California wildfire activity stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, drought, wind and dry lightning storms that scientists point to as a consequence of climate change.

Further east in drought-stricken Colorado, an Arctic storm sweeping the Rockies over the weekend dumped 15-40 centimetres of snow on the two largest wildfires in that state’s history.

“The snow has improved our chances of getting them contained, but we’re still a way off,” said Larry Helmerick, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Area Co-ordination Centre.

The two blazes combined have so far blackened well over 1000 square kilometres.

Reuters, AP

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