Fast-spreading California blaze, one of dozens, prompts evacuations

Firefighters work at the site of a wildfire in Goleta, California, U.S., July 6, 2018 in this image obtained on social media. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Santa Barbara County officials declared a local emergency on Saturday as a fast-moving wildfire driven by strong winds and high temperatures tore through homes and forced 3,200 residents to evacuate.

The Holiday Fire, one of more than three dozen in western U.S. states, broke out near the beach community of Goleta, California, on Friday night before charring dried vegetation in the foothills south of the Los Padres National Forest.

Besides the evacuations, officials said the fire left 2,000 people without power, adding that the emergency declaration will help the county get additional firefighting resources.

Some 350 firefighters took advantage of a period of light winds early on Saturday to contain as much as possible of the blaze, which has burned through 50 to 80 acres (20 to 32 hectares) and damaged or destroyed 20 buildings, fire officials said.

“It was a small fire but it had a powerful punch to it,” Santa County Fire spokesman Mike Eliason said by telephone. “We’re going to hit it hard today.”

Winds are likely to pick up again as temperatures rise in the afternoon, Eliason said. So far, firefighters have set up containment lines around just 5 percent of the blaze, he said.

Dozens of fires have broken out across the western United States, fanned by scorching heat, winds and low humidity.

The first death attributed to them was announced on Friday, when the remains of an unidentified person were found in a home burned to the ground by the Klamathon fire, which broke out on Thursday near California’s border with Oregon.

This year’s fires had burned more than 2.9 million acres (1.17 million hectares) through Friday, already more than the annual average of about 2.4 million acres (971,000 hectares) over the last 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Among the biggest is the County Fire that has charred 88,375 acres (35,764 hectares) in sparsely populated wooded areas of California’s Napa and Yolo Counties and is 48 percent contained, the California Fire authority said on Saturday.

Some 3,660 firefighters faced with inaccessible terrain, high temperatures and low humidity, were battling the fire, which has destroyed 10 structures, damaged two and threatened 110, it said.

In Colorado, officials said fire crews had made “much progress” battling the Spring Creek fire, which broke out on June 27 and has consumed 106,985 acres (43,295 hectares). It was 43 percent contained on Saturday, the officials said.