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Remote towns evacuated as California battles wildfires and heatwave

Firefighters working in steep terrain saved a small town from flames that roared down hillsides towards a marina.

The El Dorado fire burns in the San Bernardino National Forest near Oak Glen, California, yesterday.
The El Dorado fire burns in the San Bernardino National Forest near Oak Glen, California, yesterday.
Image: USA TODAY Network/SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated Sep 7th 2020, 7:33 PM

EVACUATION ORDERS HAVE been expanded to more mountain communities in California as a huge wildfire churned through the Sierra National Forest.

It was one of dozens of blazes crews battled during a heatwave that shattered records across the state.

Firefighters working in steep terrain through the night saved the tiny town of Shaver Lake from flames that roared down hillsides towards a marina.

To the north, about 30 houses were destroyed in the remote hamlet of Big Creek. 

“About half the private homes in town burned down,” Big Creek resident Toby Wait said.

“Words cannot even begin to describe the devastation of this community. And it is a very close-knit community.”

A school, church, library, historic general store and a major hydroelectric plant were spared in the community of about 200 residents, Mr Wait told the Fresno Bee.

Officials hoped to keep the fire from pushing west into rural towns along State Route 41 and possibly Yosemite National Park.

The blaze dubbed the Creek Fire has charred more than 295 square kilometres of timber after breaking out on Friday.

The 850 firefighters on the scene had yet to get any containment after three days of work in sweltering heat. There was no official tabulation yet of structures lost.

On Saturday, rescuers in military helicopters airlifted 207 people to safety after flames trapped them in a wooded camping area near Mammoth Pool Reservoir, north east of Fresno.

In southern California, crews scrambled to douse several fires that roared to life in searing temperatures, including one that closed mountain roads in Angeles National Forest.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said a blaze in San Bernardino County called the El Dorado Fire started on Saturday morning and was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender.

The fire has destroyed 7,000 acres (2,800 hectares) of land and forced many residents to flee their homes.

Residents of several communities in the area have been ordered to evacuate.

“CAL FIRE Law Enforcement has determined the El Dorado Fire, burning near Oak Glen in San Bernardino County, was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party,” Cal Fire said on Twitter yesterday.

“Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible,” it warned.

Gender reveal parties are held during pregnancy to unveil the sex of the expected child, sometimes announced by pink or blue smoke fireworks.

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Rising temperatures 

Daytime temperatures in fire zones neared or exceeded triple digits in Fahrenheit in recent days.

Central Los Angeles reached 111F (44C) on Sunday and a record-shattering high of 121F (49.4C) was recorded in the nearby Woodland Hills neighbourhood of the San Fernando Valley.

It was the highest temperature ever recorded in Los Angeles County, according to the National Weather Service.

Meanwhile, central San Francisco set a record for the day with a high of 100F (37.7C) on Sunday, smashing the previous mark by five degrees.

The exceptionally hot temperatures were driving the highest power use of the year, and transmission losses because of wildfires have cut into supplies.

Cooler temperatures were expected on Tuesday but the weather change was also expected to bring winds that could fan wildfires.

With reporting from AFP

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