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Wildfires ravage Southern California

2017-12-08 HKT 10:04
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  • Wildfires ravage Southern California
Firefighters on Thursday battled raging wildfires across southern California that have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, including residents on the outskirts of Los Angeles, America's second-largest city.

Winds with hurricane-force gusts of up to 130 kilometres per hour were fuelling the blazes, creating apocalyptic scenes of hillsides engulfed in billowing smoke and towering plumes of flame.

Despite the intensity of the fires, only one fatality has been reported so far. Tim Lohman of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said an unidentified body had been found overnight.

A prior report of a fire-related death on Monday proved to be unfounded.

More than 4,000 firefighters and dozens of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters have been deployed to combat the fires in Los Angeles County and Ventura County, fire officials said.

The Pentagon announced that the California National Guard is deploying 65 troops to assist in the fire-fighting efforts, which are being hampered by the seasonal Santa Ana winds.

California Fire Department (Cal Fire) officials said dry, windy conditions were expected to continue into the weekend and warned residents to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

Multi-million dollar mansions were destroyed in Los Angeles' Bel Air neighborhood, where many celebrities own homes and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has a US$30 million estate, the Moraga Bel Air Winery.

Besides Bel Air, affluent Los Angeles neighbourhoods between Mulholland Drive to the north and Sunset Boulevard to the south were part of the evacuation zone.

The University of California, Los Angeles cancelled classes – two days before the start of final exams – as firefighters battled the "Skirball" fire near the sprawling campus.

Further to the north, in Ventura County, an even bigger blaze, the "Thomas" fire, was raging and threatening several coastal and inland towns.

That fire has consumed 38,850 hectares and forced 50,000 people to flee their homes, Cal Fire said. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said over 230,000 people have been forced to evacuate in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Major north-south highways, including the famed Route 101, were closed temporarily as the fire jumped over the road and menaced beachfront homes.

The "Skirball" fire ignited Wednesday morning and began to sweep through affluent Bel Air, home to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, pop superstar Beyonce and other celebrities.

The singer Lionel Richie cancelled a concert to help his ex-wife flee the area, while comedian Chelsea Handler and designer Adrienne Maloof were among those tweeting that they had to evacuate. (AFP)