Crews battling California wildfires gird for return of high winds

Firefighters had gained some ground battling the fires that have burnt over the past week as the winds eased on Saturday

Ventura, California: Santa Ana winds that have stoked wildfires across Southern California, destroying hundreds of buildings and forcing evacuations of some 200,000 people are forecast to return in force on Sunday, authorities said.

Firefighters had gained some ground battling the fires that have burnt over the past week as the winds eased on Saturday.

At least one person has been killed.

The Skirball Fire in Los Angeles was 75 per cent contained, while the Creek and Rye Fires in Los Angeles County were 80 per cent and 65 per cent contained, officials said.

The largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, has blackened 62,726 hectares in Ventura County and was 15 per cent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement on Saturday night.

Winds and the rugged terrain have hampered firefighting efforts there, authorities said.

“The fire continues to threaten structures in various parts of the cities of Ventura, Ojai, Casitas Springs, Santa Paula, Carpinteria, Fillmore and the unincorporated areas of Ventura County and Matilija Canyon,” Cal Fire said in a Saturday night update on its website.

Authorities also lifted evacuation orders on Saturday for sections of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

But the National Weather Service is forecasting top wind speeds to increase to 88km/h on Sunday, up from the 64km/h recorded on Saturday.

The blazes have destroyed nearly 800 structures, and a 70-year-old woman died on Wednesday in a car accident as she attempted to flee the flames in Ventura County.

Virginia Pesola died of “blunt force injuries with terminal smoke inhalation and thermal injuries”, Ventura County Medical Examiner Christopher Young said.

North of San Diego, the 1,659-hectare Lilac Fire was 50 per cent contained by Saturday, officials said.

A brush fire broke out on Saturday night in the city of Monrovia in Los Angeles County, prompting temporary evacuations, the US Forest Service said on Twitter.

Among those evacuated included a group of Boy Scouts who were camping in the area, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Crews knocked down the 1.2-hectare blaze and there were “no structures damaged”, the city of Monrovia said on its website.

California Governor Jerry Brown issued emergency proclamations last week for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, freeing up additional resources to fight the fires.

President Donald Trump issued a federal proclamation that enables agencies to coordinate relief efforts.

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