California fires: 3 people burned in new blaze

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Wildfires roared across Southern California for a fifth day Friday, with new blazes leading to additional evacuations as neighborhoods went up in flames in San Diego County.

Six large wildfires have scorched 141,000 acres in the state this week, Cal Fire officials said. At least 5,700 firefighters from several agencies are working to contain the massive walls of flames.

The fires have forced 190,000 people out of their homes, some with nothing but their pets and a few mementos.

Dry air and strong winds are forecast for the region through Sunday, which may fuel the fires, according to CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen.

Residents should be ready to evacuate even if they don’t live in areas immediately affected by flames, Cal Fire Division Chief Nick Schuler said Thursday night.

“They need to prepare as if they will be impacted. Where are they gonna go? What are their escape routes? What is their communication to their families?” he said.

Latest developments

• New fire: The Lilac Fire in San Diego County started Thursday and grew to 4,100 acres in a few hours, leading to new evacuation orders. Evacuation centers have been set up in affected areas.

• More injuries: The Lilac Fire has left three people with burn injuries and two firefighters hurt. One firefighter suffered smoke inhalation while the second one had a dislocated shoulder. The latter popped it back into place and continued working, Schuler said.

• School closings: Officials have shut down schools spanning at least 16 districts.

Declarations: Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Santa Barbara and San Diego counties. The declarations free state resources such as the National Guard to support response efforts. He’s also requested federal assistance to supplement state and local emergency response.

Fast winds: Wind gusts in the region will be between 35 mph to 55mph through Sunday, which can fan the fire, Aissen said.

The fires

Firefighters are battling six wildfires across various counties in Southern California.

Thomas Fire: The largest of the six blazes started Monday in Ventura County, and has scorched 115,000 acres. It’s only 5% contained and has destroyed at least 73 residences.

Creek Fire: The second-largest fire is in neighboring Los Angeles County, and ignited a day later. It has burned 15,323 acres and is 20% contained.

Rye Fire: It broke out Tuesday in Los Angeles County and has burned 7,000 acres. Firefighters are making progress, with 25% of the blaze contained.

Lilac Fire: This fast-moving fire erupted Thursday in San Diego County, and has consumed 4,100 acres in just a few hours. It’s unclear what percentage of it is contained.

Skirball Fire: It started Wednesday as a brush fire in Los Angeles County, and is now 30% contained.

Liberty Fire: The blaze in Riverside County has burned 300 acres since it ignited Thursday. It’s 5% contained.

The firefighters

In addition to long hours battling blazes, firefighters are also grappling with the effects of smoke inhalation and embers irritating their eyes.

“Honestly, the firefighters are taking a beating, but we have to acknowledge the residents because they’re taking a beating, too, but they’re cooperating with our orders,” said Thomas Kruschke, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

See photos of the fierce wildfires in Southern California

Other agencies have stepped in to help the firefighters, with military and navy helicopters set to join the Lilac Fire effort Friday morning, Schuler said.

The state National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing out of Oxnard has also joined the fight, even though roughly 50 of the National Guardsmen involved had to be evacuated themselves, said spokeswoman Maj. Kimberly Holman. Three lost their homes in the blazes, she said.

How bad is it?

The Thomas Fire has burned more than 100,000 acres — more than twice the size of Washington DC.

It spread over 31,000 acres in nine hours, which is nearly an acre per second. At that rate, it would have consumed New York’s Central Park in about 15 minutes.

The fire was so destructive, it prompted officials to upgrade their color-coding system to include purple for the first time. It ranks as the 19th most destructive fire in the state’s records.

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