California's latest fires continue to rage

·2-min read

Firefighters in southern California are making little headway against two explosive, wind-whipped wildfires that have forced the evacuations of tens of thousands of residents and badly injured two frontline crew.

Howling hot, dry Santa Ana desert winds have put much of the fire-ravaged state under red-flag warnings and helped quickly spread two blazes in Orange County that erupted on Monday.

But by midday on Tuesday, winds that had accelerated the Orange County fires had settled down to 8-16 km/h, with occasional gusts up to 32 km/h, the National Weather Service said.

Winds were forecast to weaken further and remain light for at least the next two days.

More than 750 firefighters using 14 helicopters managed to contain only 5 per cent of the Silverado fire, which grew overnight to 4500 hectares from 2900 hectares late on Monday, the Orange County Fire Authority said.

Two firefighters were critically injured, with second- and third-degree burns over much of their bodies.

The blaze, which was not immediately blamed for any property loss, may have been started by equipment owned by Southern California Edison, the utility company said.

"It appears a lashing wire attached to a telecommunications line may have contacted SCE's power line above it, possibly starting the fire," a company spokesman said.

The incident is being investigated.

As a precautionary measure, the utility said on Tuesday it had cut power to nearly 19,000 homes and businesses, including about 1270 in Orange County.

The fire in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains south of Los Angeles prompted officials to order more than 90,000 residents to leave homes on Monday in and around the city of Irvine.

The Irvine Unified School District closed schools for the day.

The other Orange County blaze, the Blue Ridge fire, which broke out later near Yorba Linda, also spread quickly overnight, charring 6150 hectares by Tuesday morning, OCFA said.

Some 1000 firefighters were yet to set up containment lines around the blaze, which damaged 10 homes and is threatening thousands more.

No injuries have been linked to the Blue Ridge fire so far but authorities ordered residents of more than 8700 homes in Yorba Linda, Chino Hills and Brea to evacuate.

Wildfires this year have ravaged California, scorching more than 16,500 square km since the start of the year, with 31 lives lost and thousands of homes destroyed.