More evacuations ordered as California wildfires rage on

The largest California wildfire is advancing on coastal towns near Santa Barbara, stoked by the gusty winds and dry conditions that have fuelled destructive blazes across the state's southern region.

Top wind speeds could reach 89 km/h, up from the 64 km/h Saturday

Firefighters attack the Thomas Fire’s north flank with backfires as they continue to fight a massive wildfire north of Los Angeles, near Ojai, Calif., on Saturday. (Gene Blevins/Reuters)

The largest California wildfire advanced on coastal towns near Santa Barbara on Sunday, stoked by the gusty winds and dry conditions that have fuelled destructive blazes across the state's southern region.

Authorities ordered residents in parts of Carpinteria and Montecito to evacuate as the so-called Thomas Fire edged closer to the city of Santa Barbara, about 152 kilometres northwest of Los Angeles. The blaze has already blackened 62,726 hectares and consumed hundreds of structures.

Some half-dozen fires have raged across California since early last week.

At least one home in Carpinteria burned down on Sunday, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said. The fire was only 15 per cent contained as of the morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 

Top wind speeds were forecast to increase to 89 km/h on Sunday from 64 km/h on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. The gusts, coupled with the rugged mountain terrain above Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, have hampered firefighting efforts, authorities said.

The fires have forced the evacuation of some 200,000 people and destroyed nearly 800 structures in total. A 70-year-old woman died Wednesday in a car accident as she attempted to flee the flames in Ventura County.

'What the heck do I do?'

At the Ventura County Fairgrounds, evacuees slept in makeshift beds while rescued horses were sheltered in stables. A steady stream of rescue workers streamed in and out of the entrance early on Sunday.

Peggy Scissons, 78, arrived at the shelter with her dog last Wednesday, after residents of her mobile home park were forced to leave. She has not yet found out whether her home is standing.

Richie Fredell, 38, a paramedic, looks at the remains of his childhood home in Ventura, Calif., on Friday. (Ben Gruber/Reuters)

"I don't know what's gonna happen next or whether I'll be able to go home," she said. "It would be one thing if I were 40 or 50, but I'm 78. What the heck do I do?"

James Brown, 57, who retired from Washington state's forestry service and has lived in Ventura for a year, was forced to leave his house along with his wife last week because both have breathing problems.

"It brought back old memories, fighting forest fires," said Brown, who is in a wheelchair. "We knew a fire was coming, but we didn't know it would be this bad."

The Thomas Fire, the largest of the infernos, had left nearly 90,000 customers without power as of early Sunday morning, Southern California Edison said on its website.

Thousands of firefighters battling the fires that have burned over the past week gained some ground on Saturday.

Fight to contain fires

Both the Creek and Rye fires in Los Angeles County were 90 per cent contained by Sunday morning, officials said, while the Skirball Fire in Los Angeles was 75 per cent contained.

North of San Diego, the 1,659-hectare Lilac Fire was 60 per cent contained by Sunday.

A brush fire broke out Saturday night in the city of Monrovia in Los Angeles County, prompting temporary evacuations, the U.S. Forest Service said on Twitter.

A group of boy scouts camping in the area were among those evacuated, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Crews knocked down the 1.2-hectare blaze and no structures were reported damaged, the city of Monrovia said on its website.

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued emergency proclamations last week for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, freeing up additional resources to fight the infernos.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued a federal proclamation that enabled agencies to co-ordinate relief efforts.