JUNIPER HILLS, Calif. (AP) – High winds stoked a wildfire for nearly two weeks in the mountains northeast of Los Angeles, prompting authorities to issue new evacuation orders for desert communities who lost homes a day earlier.
Meanwhile, authorities were investigating the death of a firefighter on the lines of another southern California wildfire that broke out earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal the sex of their baby.
The death occurred Thursday in the San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado fire about 120 kilometers east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.
In northern Los Angeles County, firefighters focused on protecting homes on Saturday as increasingly irregular winds pushed the Bobcat Fire towards foothill communities in the Antelope Valley after crossing the mountains of San Gabriel. An evacuation order was issued on Saturday for all residents of that area as the blaze marched towards Wrightwood, a mountain community of 4,000, fire spokesman Andrew Mitchell said.
The fire reached 368 square kilometers on Saturday as winds pushed the flames into Juniper Hills.
Some residents fled as embers set off occasional fires, hitting some houses but sparing others. Bridget Lensing feared her family’s home was lost on Friday after seeing on Twitter that a neighbor’s house, three doors down, had caught fire.
The house was standing when she returned on Saturday afternoon, but the homes of her neighbors in the remote community were set on fire.
“Everything around us is gone,” she said.
The extent of the destruction in the area about 50 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles was not immediately clear. But, Los Angeles County park officials said the fire destroyed the nature center at Devil’s Punchbowl Nature Area, a geological wonder that attracts an estimated 130,000 visitors a year.
No injuries were reported.
On the south side of the Bobcat Fire, firefighters continued to protect Mount Wilson, which overlooks greater Los Angeles and has a historic observatory founded more than a century ago and numerous broadcast antennas serving southern California.
The fire that started on September 6 had already doubled in size over the past week. It is 15% content.
Officials said the blaze was difficult because it burns in areas that have not burned in decades and because firestorms across California have limited resources. There were approximately 1,660 firefighters on the lines.
The name of the firefighter killed in the nearby El Dorado blaze has not been released until family members are notified. The body was escorted down the mountain in a procession of first aid vehicles. No further information has been released on the circumstances of the death.
A statement from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said it was the 26th death involving wildfires besieging the state.
A new fire started by a vehicle that caught fire was growing in the wilderness outside of Palm Springs.
In the north, a fire that burned for nearly a month in the Sequoia National Forest broke out again on Friday and triggered evacuation orders for mountain communities of Silver City and Mineral King in central California .
More than 7,900 wildfires have burned more than 5,468 square miles (14,164 square kilometers) in California this year, many since a barrage of dry lightning in mid-August ignited parched vegetation.
The El Dorado fire burned over 89 square kilometers and was 59% contained, with 10 buildings destroyed and six damaged.
Cal Fire said earlier this month that the El Dorado fire ignited on September 5 when a couple, their young children and someone there to record a video staged the reveal of the baby gender at El Dorado Ranch Park, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains.
The device was triggered in a field and quickly ignited dry grass. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to put out the flames and called 911.
Authorities have not disclosed the identity of the couple, who could face criminal charges and be held responsible for the cost of fighting the blaze.
Across the Northwest, firefighters welcomed cooler temperatures and rains, along with significantly improved air quality and visibility that would allow some to monitor blaze activity with drones.
Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles and Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco contributed to this report.