Nearly 200,000 people flee homes as fifth wildfire erupts in California

Almost 200,000 people have been forced from their homes by wildfires rampaging through California as firefighters on Thursday raced to tackle another new blaze.

The number of evacuees almost quadrupled as a fifth fire broke out to the north of San Diego.

Fire crews are struggling to contain the blazes which are being fanned by the region’s Santa Ana winds, which could yet reach hurricane force.

The hot, dry winds blow in from the California desert, and the state CAL Fire agency warned that gusty condition and low humidity would exacerbate the danger throughout the weekend.

The blazes destroyed hundreds of home and forced many schools around Los Angeles to close.

Flames skipped over highways and railroad tracks, and residents rushed to evacuate their homes with only minutes’ warning, some leaving behind holiday gifts. People feared for the safety of animals from cats to llamas amid reports that dozens of horses had been killed.

North of San Diego, the newest blaze called the Lilac Fire grew from 10 acres to 2,500 acres in just a few hours on Thursday, according to fire crews, prompting Jerry Brown, governor of California, to declare a state of emergency for San Diego County.

The blaze destroyed 20 structures and prompted evacuations and road closures. Propane tanks under several houses exploded from the heat.

The other fires, which broke out on Monday and Tuesday, have reached into the wealthy enclave of Bel-Air on Los Angeles’ West Side. Some major highways in the densely populated area were intermittently closed.

Firefighters and helicopters sprayed and dumped bucketloads of water to try to contain the flames against a hellish backdrop of flaming mountains and walls of smoke.

The Lilac Fire Credit: Reuters

One death has been reported so far although authorities said they could not yet be sure whether the female body found in a car in Ventura County was the result of an accident or the fire.

Three firefighters have also been injured, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

In the seaside enclave of Faria Beach, caught between burning mountains and the Pacific Ocean, northwest of Ventura, fires spread down the smoking hills. Flames jumped the heavily used US 101 highway and headed toward clusters of beach houses. Firefighters lined up along a railroad track, the last barrier from the flames.

Surrounded by strong winds and smoke, Songsri Kesonchampa aimed a garden hose at a large pine tree between her Faria Beach house and the fire, attempting to fend…

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