California wildfire, fuelled by desert winds, forces evacuations

A Southern California wildfire fuelled by desert winds burned 2,487 acres and prompted evacuation orders for more than 4,000 people in Riverside County.

The Highland Fire nearly doubled in size from Monday night to Tuesday, blowing toward the west by Santa Ana winds. The seasonal phenomenon occurs when dry desert air blows toward the ocean, creating a fire hazard in Southern California.

The fire was 10 per cent contained as of Tuesday night, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said, after crews attacked the blaze on the ground and aircraft dropped fuchsia-colored retardant.

Some 1,220 homes and 4,270 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders, with another 1,136 homes and 3,976 residents under evacuation warnings, Cal Fire spokesperson Thomas Shoots said.

Officials opened one evacuee centre for people and another for animals, while those staying at a resort for recreational vehicles drove their campers to a Walmart parking lot in Temecula about 25 km away.

Some people said they left the RV resort at the prodding of first responders, escaping flames that later entered the site.

The cause of the fire was being investigated, Cal Fire said, adding that the fire was a continuing threat with several roads closed and evacuation orders in effect.

Southern California has had a mild fire year in 2023, after unusually heavy rainfall that included the first tropical storm to reach heavily populated areas in the state in 84 years.

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