More than 100 Arizona firefighters being sent to battle California wildfires
PHOENIX — More than 100 Arizona firefighters were expected to be sent to California on Wednesday to help fight massive wildfires burning north of Los Angeles.
Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, said the 42 engines and nearly 150 personnel were being sent to battle the flames.
A majority of the firefighters will be used as strike teams on the front lines of the fire and to protect structures.
The biggest and most destructive of several wildfires burning in Southern California had scorched more than 101 square miles by Wednesday morning. It started burning Monday evening.
“It’s hard to fathom the amount of devastation that California has seen over the last few months,” Arizona State Forester Jeff Whitney said in a release. “We will always be ready to assist our neighbors when needed.”
The Ventura wildfire exploded to nearly 80 square miles in a matter of hours. It was fanned by dry Santa Ana winds clocked at well over 60 mph and spit embers up to a half-mile ahead of fire lines.
The fire was considered a threat to 12,000 structures Wednesday. At least 150 structures had been destroyed but a fire official said he suspected “hundreds more” would be lost when flames died down enough to make a thorough assessment.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the gusty winds expected to last most of the week had created a dangerous situation. He urged 150,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders to leave their homes before it’s too late.
“We have lost structures, we have not lost lives,” he said. “Do not wait. Leave your homes.”
A new fire burning among ridges and canyons on the west side of Los Angeles had also burned several homes while snarling morning commuter traffic.
In addition to prompting hasty evacuations, the fires shut down two freeways for hours and sent heavy, acrid smoke billowing over the Los Angeles area, creating a health hazard for millions.
Two people were critically injured in a small San Bernardino County fire, but no other serious injuries were reported. The fires were under investigation and no causes had been found.
The fires come just eight weeks after the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in state history burned through Northern California and its fabled wine country. Forty-four people were killed and 8,900 homes and other buildings were destroyed.
Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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