California fires: Six killed as thousands are forced to flee

(BBC) – Six people have died in some California’s largest-ever wildfires that have fouled the air with heavy smoke across much of the western US.

The worst of the hundreds of fires burning across the state are in the mountains to the south and east of San Francisco.

Officials say the fires were started by more than 12,000 dry lightning strikes amidst an historic heat wave.

Hundreds of buildings have burned down and thousands more are threatened.

By Friday, emergency officials said some of the fires had doubled in size from the day earlier and have now forced 175,000 residents to flee.

Over 10,000 fire-fighters are battling the blazes, which have been burning on steep, difficult to access terrain and have been fuelled by strong winds. More fire-fighters are racing in from other states to help.

Two of the fires are now the 7th and 10th largest in the state’s history, Governor Gavin Newsom said in a news conference as he urged President Trump to sign a major disaster declaration.

“We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many, many years,” he said, adding that an area the size of the US state of Rhode Island has already burned within California.

With more than 650,000 coronavirus cases, California also has the highest number of infections in the US, and some evacuees have said they are afraid to go to emergency shelters.

One woman told CNN that she was forced to flee to a community centre in Vacaville, but is refusing to go inside for fear of catching coronavirus.

“Not only are we dealing with Covid, but with also the heat and now the fires,” said Cheryl Jarvis, who said she is currently sleeping in her Toyota Prius.

US disaster agencies have updated disaster preparedness and evacuation guidance in light of Covid-19. People who may be required to flee have been to told to carry at least two face masks per person, as well as hand sanitiser, soap and disinfectant wipes.

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