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California fires: Inferno bears down on Los Angeles – hurricane-force winds fan flames

Hundreds of schools have been forced to close their doors as raging wildfires wreaked havoc on Southern California, forcing about 200,000 people to flee for their safety.

Almost 9,000 homes are without power and huge swathes of highways have been shut down as officials try to slow the path of the flames.

Hundreds of firefighters have been working nonstop to battle the blazes racing across hillsides and through neighbourhoods, destroying homes and businesses in their way.

And merciless winds, predicted to reach the strength of a Category 1 hurricane in mountainous areas, are threatening to intensify the already devastating fires.

The hot, dry Santa Ana winds are expected to whip up the flames in the four areas – known as the Thomas fire, the Rye fire, the Creek fie and the Skirball fire.

Red flag warnings have been extended across much of Southern California through Saturday, while high winds warnings are in effect for mountains and valleys in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The Thomas fire in Ventura County, the largest of the four fires, started Monday night as a 50-acre brush fire rapidly grew to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said.

By midnight last night it had swelled to more than 108,000 acres – and officials say they have only managed to contain just five per cent.

The blaze has already burned around 96,000 acres of land and is expected to intensify due to the increasing winds. 

While the Skirball fire, the smallest of the wildfires currently, is still producing a threat to heavily populated areas of Los Angeles and drawn widespread attention. 

Firefighters battled to save multimillion-dollar homes in the path of the flames, which also forced the closure of the San Diego (405) Freeway in both directions, and warned that if the winds picked up again in the evening the situation could become even more dire.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby told reporters at an afternoon news conference: ”We are expecting some extreme wind behaviour this evening.”

The Creek fire and Rye fire also continue to burn today with little containment.

With all four blazes growing rapidly out of control, officials said they could not give a precise number of homes destroyed as the flames in burned neighbourhoods still were too intense.

A video posted on Instagram shows a Los Angeles County Fire helicopter manoeuvring through heavy smoke to make a water drop on the Skirball Fire.

And the thick smoke from the fires could even be seen from the International Space Station, according to Astronaut Randy Bresnik.

He tweeted: “I was asked this evening if we can see the SoCal fires from space. Yes Faith, unfortunately we can. May the Santa Ana’s die down soon. #Californiawildfire.”

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, freeing state funds and resources to assist firefighters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it approved grants to help cover the cost of emergency work for the Thomas Fire and two others.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his thoughts and prayers were with everyone in the path of the wildfires.

Mr Trump tweeted: ”I encourage everyone to heed the advice and orders of local and state officials. 

“THANK YOU to all First Responders for your incredible work.”

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