Firefighters fought to spare homes Friday from a growing Southern California forest fire, a day after flames came perilously close to neighborhoods and destroyed one house.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties as the fire carved its way along ridges in Cleveland National Forest south of Los Angeles.
Some hillsides were allowed to burn under firefighters’ watch as a way to reduce fuel and make it harder for flames to jump roadways into communities if winds pick up again.
Aircraft dropped fire retardant on flames and homes as people ignoring evacuation orders used garden hoses to spray down their properties when the blaze flared Thursday evening, propelled by 20-mph gusts.
Shannon Hicks, 59, defied an evacuation order and watched as firefighters faced down a storm of flames that descended toward her street in Lake Elsinore.
“It looked like a tornado. The flames were just twirling and twirling,” she said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way they’re saving my house.’ But somehow they did.”
The Holy Fire burned 12 cabins at its origin in the community of Holy Jim on Monday. It has chewed through 28 square miles of dense chaparral and was only 5 percent contained.
It’s one of nearly 20 blazes across California, which is seeing earlier, longer, and more intense wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.
Firefighters aided by cooler weather have made good progress against a blaze burning for nearly a month near Yosemite National Park in the northern part of the state. The park was set to reopen Tuesday after two weeks, park spokesman Scott Gediman said Friday.
The blaze didn’t reach the heart of the park and instead burned remote areas, making roads inaccessible and polluting with smoke.
Officials also gained more control over two other major Northern California wildfires, including the largest in recorded state history, even as evacuations were ordered for communities near a new fire in the Fall River Mills area, about 70 miles northeast of Redding.
About 350 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders because of the Hat Fire, which began Thursday near a highway.
Crews turned a corner in their battle against the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest-ever recorded in the state, getting it 60 percent contained. The fire more than 100 miles north of Sacramento has destroyed more than 100 homes.