World

California wildfire prompts state of emergency

A wildfire in Southern California being stoked by Santa Ana winds prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency in Ventura County.
A horse looks on as a helicopter makes a water drop on a fast moving wildfire burning in the hills of Moorpark, Calif. on Tuesday. ((Dan Steinberg/Associated Press))

 A wildfire in Southern California being stoked by Santa Ana winds prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency in Ventura County on Wednesday.

Officials closed Moorpark College in Ventura County as flames burned in the hills above the campus. The fire has burned about 3,440 hectares in the hills of Ventura County, where airtankers including a DC-10 jumbo jet and big helitankers bombarded flames with retardant and water.

Three firefighters were injured fighting the blaze, which erupted Tuesday afternoon. The fire didn't calm overnight but continued to grow and is now 20 per cent contained, fire officials said Wednesday afternoon.

Evacuation orders remain in effect, county fire spokesman Bill Nash said. About 1,000 homes were considered threatened as the fire burned east and west just north of Moorpark, a city of 37,000.

The forecast called for more scorching temperatures, low humidity and weak to moderate Santa Ana winds, which is expected to stoke fire activity, said county fire Capt. Ron Oatman.

The winds out of the northeast, speed up and warm up as they push through mountain passes and canyons toward the Pacific Ocean. The air is extremely dry, lowering humidity levels and making brush easier to burn.

'Red flag' warnings

Smaller fires also broke out in Riverside County and neighbouring San Bernardino County. The Santa Ana winds blew up clouds of ash to the north and east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains, which were burned by a wildfire that continues to smoulder a month after it started.

That fire, which has destroyed 89 homes and led to the deaths of two firefighters, is now 94 per cent contained, with full containment expected Thursday morning.

The weather service also issued "red flag" warnings of fire weather conditions in other parts of California due to a combination of low humidity, high temperatures and wind.

Those areas included the hills east of San Francisco Bay and mountains to the north, the northern Sierra and northern Sacramento Valley and a large swath of the state farther north.

A 120-hectare wildfire burning in a heavily wooded area of Sonoma County near Geyserville was expected to be contained Wednesday morning.

With files from The Associated Press

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