LOS ANGELES (AP) — Smoke filled the sky and ash rained down across Los Angeles Sunday from a destructive wildfire that the mayor said was the largest in city history — one of several blazes that sent thousands fleeing homes across the U.S. West during a blistering holiday weekend heat wave.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a local emergency and at the state level, Gov. Jerry Brown did the same for the county after the wildfire destroyed three homes and threatened hillside neighborhoods. More than a thousand firefighters battled flames that chewed through more than 9 square miles (23 kilometers) of brush-covered mountains as authorities issued evacuation orders for homes in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale.
Temperatures were in the mid-to-high 90s but crews got a break from increased humidity and winds that calmed to less than 5 mph.
“That can change in a moment’s notice and the winds can accelerate very quickly,” Los Angeles Fire Capt. Ralph Terrazas told reporters Sunday. “There is a lot of fuel out there left to burn.”
Officials were keeping an eye on thunderstorms in the mountains to the north, which could bring welcome rain but also the risk of flash floods and lightning.
Burbank resident George Grair was not in the evacuation zone but watched uneasily as flames blackened a hillside in the near distance.
“It’s very difficult to feel safe. I’ve got kids in the house,” he told KABC-TV. “I probably slept two hours all night.”
The high at Los Angeles International Airport reached 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius) Sunday, topping the previous mark of 92 (33 Celsius), set in 1982. Records were also set in parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where the temperature hit 101 degrees (38 Celsius).
Fires burning up and down the Sierra Nevada and further to the northwest cast an eerie yellow and gray haze over much of California, and much of the state was under alerts because of poor air quality.
California authorities ordered evacuation for a third small town Sunday in one of the wildfires, a blaze that has burned 9-square-miles (23 square kilometers) near Yosemite National Park.
Firefighters battling that blaze were making it a priority to safeguard a 2,700-year-old grove of giant sequoia and a pair of historic cabins at the grove, fire spokeswoman Anne Grandy said. Fire crews had wrapped the two 19th-century cabins and an outhouse in shiny, fire-resistant material to protect them from the flames that had entered the Nelder Grove, Grandy said.
The flames were consuming old brush and dead wood on the forest floor, but had not burned the giant sequoia, some of which top 20 stories in height, she said. The millennia-old trees already had “survived thousands of fires,” she said.
California crews are also protecting homes from a fast-moving wildfire that forced evacuations in Riverside County.