Some 60,000 people fled their homes near Los Angeles on Monday as a wildfire raged across more than 2,000 acres (800 hectares) with high winds grounding firefighting aircraft.
The so-called Silverado Fire erupted early in the morning in the foothills of Irvine, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, and quickly spread, fueled by dry windy conditions.
“It’s nuts — even inside the car, my eyes, my nose and my throat stung,” said Frederic Tournadre, a French man whose company in Irvine sent all its employees home.
The National Weather Service warned that the combination of low humidity, dry vegetation and strong winds had created “the most dangerous fire weather conditions” this year.
It said the region will remain under a red flag warning — signifying a high risk of wildfire — through Tuesday evening.
“New fire ignitions in Los Angeles and Ventura counties will likely have very rapid fire growth, extreme fire behavior, and long range spotting, resulting in a significant threat to life and property,” the Weather Service said.
The Silverado Fire is burning as California and much of the US west is under major fire risk because of dry conditions and strong seasonal winds.
More than four million acres have been devoured this season by flames in California alone, where 31 people have died in some of the largest fires in the state’s history.
Evacuations have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic which has hit the Golden State hard and hampered the work of firefighters.
The state fire agency Cal Fire said Monday that more than 4,000 firefighters are battling 22 wildfires, with 34 million people under red flag warnings.
It said that wind gusts upwards of 80 miles (130 kilometers) an hour were expected in mountain areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
The critical fire weather prompted Southern California Edison to shut off power to hundreds of customers in the two counties in a precautionary move to avert any electrical equipment from sparking blazes.