US & Canada

California wildfire forces hundreds to flee flames

Firefighters in San Diego County, California, 22 June 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Firefighters are battling to control several wildfires in California

A wildfire has destroyed at least 80 buildings and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes in California.

The fire is continuing to spread in the mountain town of Lake Isabella and officials say at least 1,500 more buildings are at risk.

An elderly couple trying to flee the flames were overcome by smoke outside their house and killed, police said.

The blaze is one of several fires sparked by recent hot weather across the western United States.

Thousands of firefighters have been involved in attempts to control blazes across California, where soaring temperatures and 20mph winds combined with five years of drought have helped fires to spread.

'Firefight of epic proportions'

The Lake Isabella fire started about 40 miles (65km) north-east of Bakersfield in central California at about 16:00 local time (23:00 GMT) on Thursday.

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Media captionFirefighter-shot footage shows the devastation the blaze is causing

It spread 11 miles in 13 hours, engulfing 8,000 acres (3,240 hectares) of parched grass, officials say.

The couple who died were found outside their house near Lake Isabella on Friday, fire department officials said.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Residents helped firefighters try to limit the blaze's impact near Lake Isabella

"It's a firefight of epic proportions," said Kern County Fire Department's Brian Marshall said at a news conference. "There's not enough firefighters and fire trucks to put in front of every structure."

Roads have been closed, power has been knocked out and evacuations ordered in several communities, according to fire information website InciWeb, which says evacuees are being sheltered at a school.

Investigators are working to establish the cause of the fire, which remains unknown.

TV footage showed firefighting helicopters hovering amid billowing clouds of smoke as flames consumed homes and roared through the Kern County foothills.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The fire spread through the Kern County foothills, engulfing 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) of parched grass

Fire officials said some residents had ignored evacuation orders. Three firefighters are being treated at hospital for smoke inhalation.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption At least 80 buildings in the mountain town of Lake Isabella have been destroyed, officials say

California's largest wildfire in recent years was in San Diego county in 2003. That burned 2,820 buildings and led to 15 deaths.

The state's deadliest fire on record killed 29 people in Los Angeles county in 1933.

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