Wildfires rage in California drought, hundreds forced to flee

By Dan Whitcomb

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Crews were battling about a dozen major wildfires across California on Tuesday that have forced thousands of people to flee, damaged or destroyed more than 100 buildings, and charred thousands of acres of drought-stricken forest.

Three years of drought in the most populous U.S. state has forced farmers to let fields lie fallow and left communities reliant on well water, with bone-dry brush fueling wildfires in temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius).

This year's wildfire season, which typically runs from May to October, was on track to be the most destructive on record, according the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Authorities gave the following details.

BOLES FIRE

About 350 acres in the north of the state have been burned, more than 100 buildings have been destroyed or damaged and more than 1,000 people have been from their homes in three small communities near Interstate 5 and U.S. 97, Cal Fire said. Both roads were closed. The fire was only 15 percent contained.

KING FIRE

More than 1,000 firefighters were battling the 8,600-acre blaze in dense forest and steep terrain in El Dorado County. Nearly 250 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order, while residents of another 400 houses were advised they could voluntarily leave, the county sheriff's office said.

Cal Fire reported one injury associated with the fire, which was 5 percent contained and more than doubled in size on Monday.

COURTNEY FIRE

Further south, about 320 acres east of Yosemite have burned since wildfires started Sunday and more than 30 homes were burnt to the ground, Cal Fire said.

Some 1,000 residents in and around the foothill community of Oakhurst and near Bass Lake were evacuated. Flames were 35 percent contained by Monday evening.

SILVERADO FIRE

More than 1,000 firefighters backed by nine helicopters had been working to try to contain the roughly 1,000-acre fire, which broke out on Friday in the Cleveland National Forest and spread rapidly the next day.

The fire was largely contained by Monday evening.

Authorities near Los Angeles had lifted an evacuation order on Sunday after the wildfire had forced hundreds of people to flee their homes as it swept through drought-parched woods.

36 PIT FIRE

In Oregon, residents on opposite ends of the state were warned they may need to evacuate as high temperatures fed two growing wildfires on Monday.

Outside Portland, a campground and Recreational Vehicle (RV) park were closed by a fire that grew to 1,200 acres overnight.

The Red Cross said about 20 campers and RV residents had sought help at an emergency shelter.

The blaze threatened 168 homes and Governor John Kitzhaber ordered state crews to help local firefighters, his office said.

In southwest Oregon, another fire was threatening 10 homes plus critical communication infrastructure, fire officials said. No evacuations were ordered, but homeowners were put on standby to depart.

(Additional reporting by Courtney Sherwood in Portland, Oregon and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Louise Ireland)