CASTAIC, Calif. (AP) — California wildfires engulfed rural areas north of Los Angeles and east of San Diego on Thursday, rushing through dry bush and forcing evacuations as the state sweltered in a heat wave that could last into Labor Day .
A route fire near Castaic in northwest Los Angeles County raged on more than 8 square miles of hills that were scattered with houses. Traffic on Interstate 5, the main north-south highway through the fire zone, was hampered. The level of containment was estimated at 12%.
Media reports said a wall of fire shot uphill and smoke billowed thousands of feet into the air as planes dumped water from nearby Kastaik Lake. There were no immediate reports of damage to buildings, but a mobile home park with 94 dwellings was evacuated.
An elementary school was also evacuated. Temperatures in the area hit 107 degrees (42 Celsius) on Wednesday, with wind gusts up to 17 miles per hour (27 kilometers per hour), according to forecasters.
Temperatures across much of California were so high that Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and the state’s power grid operator asked residents to voluntarily reduce their electricity consumption.
Eight firefighters were treated for heat-related problems, including six who were sent to hospitals, but they were all in good condition, Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Ewald said.
More injuries are expected as crews cope with the intense heat, which is expected to last until next week, Ewald said at a press conference on Wednesday evening.
“With heavy fire equipment, with backpacks, dragging hoses, waving tools, people just fail,” he said.
Another fire burned at least four buildings, including a home, and prompted evacuations in the Dulzura neighborhood in eastern San Diego County near the US-Mexico border. It quickly grew to more than 6 square miles and prompted evacuation orders for at least 400 homes, authorities said. The fire was localized by 5%.
State Route 94 was closed. Officials said the Mountain Empire Unified School District will close on Thursday.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that the port of entry at Tecate with Mexico closed three hours early Wednesday night due to a fire and will not reopen until conditions improve to ensure “travel safety.” Travelers can continue to use the 24-hour Otay Mesa crossing.
No injuries were reported immediately, but there were “lots of close calls” as residents fled, said Capt. Thomas Shutes of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“We’ve had several 911 calls from people who couldn’t evacuate” because their homes were surrounded by fire, Shuts told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Wildfires have flared up across the western states this summer. The largest and deadliest fire in California this year broke out in July in Siskew County. As a result, four people were killed and most of the small settlement on the Klamath River was destroyed.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
About the photo: Firefighters line up during a wildfire in Castaic, California on Wednesday, August 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Ringo HW Chiu)
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