California wildfire forces evacuations as West bakes in record heat



By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES Firefighters near California’s central coast worked on Saturday to protect dozens of evacuated homes from a fast-moving wildfire burning in steep terrain after searing temperatures reached record highs in parts of the U.S. West.

The so-called Alamo Fire, named after a creek running in the area where it started on Thursday, has expanded to about 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) on the border between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Fueled by high winds and bone-dry vegetation, the size of the fire has doubled overnight. The fire was only 10 percent contained on Saturday, a day after authorities ordered the evacuation of between 150 and 200 houses in Tepusquet Canyon outside the town of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Gina DePinto said.

The top priority of a beefed-up force of 1,000 firefighters is protecting those houses, she said, while aiming to stop the blaze from reaching wineries to the south and electric transmission lines to the southeast.

So far, the Alamo Fire has not destroyed any houses or caused any major injuries, DePinto said by phone.

Heavy rainfall in parts of the West over the winter and spring helped delay the onset of the fire season, but also spurred the growth of dense vegetation that has dried out and become highly combustible in summertime heat.

Temperatures in the Southern Californian resort city of Palm Springs climbed to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) on Friday, breaking a record high for that date set in 1976, according to the National Weather Service.

Downtown Los Angeles, usually cooler than other parts of the city, set a record for the date at 96 degrees (36 degrees Celsius).

Another high mark was set across the border in Nevada, where Las Vegas baked in 116 degree (47 degrees Celsius) heat.

Excessive heat in desert regions in the U.S. Southwest could pose a threat to human life through Saturday night, according to a National Weather Service advisory.

Daily temperature records in several cities in the U.S. West may be tied or broken on Saturday, the Weather Service said.

By Sunday, high temperatures are forecast to reach the Plains states, including North and South Dakota and Iowa.

Wildfires have also spread rapidly in Canada this week.

The province of British Columbia declared its first state of emergency in 14 years late on Friday as dozens of wildfires spread throughout the rural interior of the Pacific province, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Diane Craft)


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