Hundreds of new evacuations across West as wildfires surge

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Residents evacuate their home as a wildfire is burning along a hillside in Duarte, California. (Ringo HW Chiu, AP)
Residents evacuate their home as a wildfire is burning along a hillside in Duarte, California. (Ringo HW Chiu, AP)

Los Angeles — Surging wildfires on Tuesday forced new evacuations of hundreds of homes across the West, while firefighters began beating back a pair of big adjacent blazes looming over suburban Los Angeles.

Near the US-Mexico border southeast of San Diego, a two-day-old, 12-square-mile wildfire took a large leap and forced the evacuation of about 600 homes and more than 1 500 people in the community of Lake Morena Village. Previously only about 75 people had evacuated from that fire.

In the Los Angeles area, firefighters stopped the progress of two adjacent fires in the San Gabriel Mountains 20 miles northeast of downtown LA.

The blazes were 10% contained, US Forest Service spokesperson Nathan Judy said.

Still, no one was being allowed back to the 770 homes in the foothill city of Duarte that were under evacuation orders.

"We're looking at another night at least," Judy said. "We understand the stress it puts on families if you displace them from their homes, and we want to get them back as soon as we can."

Officials also have reduced the combined size of the fires from about 8½ square miles to about 7½ square miles after better mapping, Judy said.

The two fires erupted separately on Monday and scared homeowners before burning mostly away from the cities.

Threat

Charlie Downing, out of breath and with his shirt off because of the heat, said that when he first smelled fire and felt heat he ran outside of his house and was astonished by the size and nearness of the flames.

"I came running over just to look, and it was 15 to 20 feet in the air," Downing told reporters. "By the time I came back and told my grandma and my kids to get in the car, it was right by the car."

He and two neighbours sprayed the flames with their yard hoses until firefighters arrived minutes later.

Two towering columns of smoke rose from the mountain range, reminiscent of a 2009 fire that scorched 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest as it burned for weeks.

Elsewhere, crews made progress against a week-old blaze in rugged coastal mountains west of Santa Barbara, boosting containment to 84%.

About 270 homes and other buildings were threatened by the blaze, which has charred more than 12 square miles since Wednesday. Authorities planned to begin lifting mandatory evacuations there on Wednesday.

In Utah, officials have evacuated about 100 homes from a mountain near a town in the southwest section of the state as a wildfire less than a mile away is moving down a rocky slope toward the community of Pine Valley. The blaze is less than a square mile, but it is moving dangerously close to homes in difficult terrain, officials said.

Other blazes burned wide swaths across Arizona and New Mexico, where firefighters also faced blistering heat.

In New Mexico, a 28-square-mile fire that erupted last week and destroyed 24 homes in the mountains south of Albuquerque showed signs of slowing down. Higher humidity has allowed crews to strengthen lines, and some evacuees would be allowed to return home on Tuesday.

In eastern Arizona, a fire doubled to nearly 42 square miles and led officials to warn a community of 300 residents to prepare to evacuate. The blaze on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation was not moving quickly toward the community of Cedar Creek because of sparse vegetation and shifting winds.

Gov Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency to free up state funds to help in the fire area.

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