AP Nation / World

Jun 24, 12:57 AM EDT

Central California fire burns structures, spurs evacuation


LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (AP) -- A wildfire broke out Thursday and exploded in size, consuming at least 50 to 60 homes as it tore through several rural communities in Central California northeast of Bakersfield, authorities said.

The blaze broke out near Lake Isabella in late afternoon amid heat in the 90s and single-digit humidity, climbing over at least three ridges into hillside neighborhoods, Kern County fire Capt. Tyler Townsend said.

The fire has burned nearly four square miles, and about 1,000 homes are under threat. Several thousand people were under evacuation orders.

Live video from fire officials at the scene showed hillside homes along dirt roads consumed by heavy flames in Squirrel Mountain Valley, a community of about 500 people. Some houses were already little more than embers on the ground, while others were deep in flames.

Smoky haze could be seen for miles around, and orange flames lit the evening air as planes and helicopters made drops on the blaze.

"I've never been in a wildland fire where I've seen so many homes burn," said Townsend, who has been in the area for nearly a decade. "It's one of the most devastating I've ever seen."

Many of the houses in the area have propane tanks, adding to the danger, he said.

The small rural communities of South Fork, Weldon, Onyx, Lakeland Estates, Yankee Canyon and Mountain Mesa were also under evacuation orders.

Some residents were refusing to evacuate, Townsend said.

There are also power and cellphone outages in the area.

Elsewhere in the state, cooler weather helped crews fighting two fires that burned more than 8 square miles of chaparral and brush in the Angeles National Forest and foothill communities northeast of Los Angeles. The fires were 15 percent contained.

More than 1,300 homes were evacuated during the 4-day-old blaze, but around half have been allowed back.

On Thursday, authorities let hundreds of evacuated residents return briefly to homes in Azusa and Duarte to gather belongings. Residents might not be allowed back permanently for several more days, officials said.

One of the fires broke out Monday when a car ran off a highway. No homes have burned.

Near the San Diego County border with Mexico, an 11-square-mile fire was 35 percent contained after burning five homes. A majority of evacuees were cleared to return at 6 p.m. Thursday.

A heat wave coupled with nightly wind gusts drove the fires earlier in the week before slightly cooler weather took hold. But National Weather Service forecasts warned red-flag conditions of extreme fire danger could return by evening.

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