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Crews save homes as winds whip Southern California fire

September 6, 2019
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In this Wednesday evening, Sept 4, 2019 photo, residents and onlookers watch as the Tenaja Fire burns in and above Cole Canyon at the top of Vineyard Parkway in Murrieta, Calif. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP)
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In this Wednesday evening, Sept 4, 2019 photo, residents and onlookers watch as the Tenaja Fire burns in and above Cole Canyon at the top of Vineyard Parkway in Murrieta, Calif. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register via AP)

MURRIETA, Calif. (AP) — Crews saved homes after gusty winds pushed a wildfire to the edge of a Southern California neighborhood, and officials ordered evacuations when a blaze in the northern part of the state exploded in size.

The fire southeast of Los Angeles grew to about 3 square miles (8 square kilometers) and was 10% contained, authorities said.

Renewed winds presented challenges for firefighters as flames burned dry brush and trees near houses in the Riverside County city of Murrieta and unincorporated community of La Cresta. Two structures sustained minor damage.

“The front of the fire came right down into the neighborhood. There was just a massive amount of fuel on those hillsides,” said Capt. Fernando Herrera with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Aircraft made continuous drops of water and retardant, he said.

In Northern California, a wildfire broke out Thursday in Tehama County and quickly chewed through more than 6.7 square miles (17.4 square kilometers) of brush and timber.

Residents of scattered properties west of Red Bluff were ordered to leave as a huge plume of smoke stretched into the sky. Officials were working to confirm the exact number of evacuations and structures in the path of the flames. Some seasonal cabins were threatened, according to Cal Fire. There was no containment.

Renee Harshman said she could see the Southern California fire grow before dawn from her bedroom window in the Copper Canyon neighborhood of Murrieta on the southern edge of the blaze.

“It was very scary to watch the flames, because it was riding along the ridge,” she told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. “It was coming where a lot of people live.”

About 570 homes were in the mandatory evacuation zone and another 2,200 were under voluntary evacuation orders, officials said.

Firefighters protected horse farms near La Cresta as gusty winds whipped up flames and thick smoke on the western side of the blaze, Herrera said.

The fire erupted Wednesday afternoon on rural land, and erratic winds quickly pushed flames down hills toward homes about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles.

The cause may have been a lightning strike as hot, muggy weather produced thunderstorms. Several small fires were sparked by lightning Thursday in the forest north of Los Angeles. Thunderstorms were possible into Friday, the National Weather Service said.

The fires were among several burning around the state. There was very little containment of a 1.5-square-mile (3.9-square-kilometer) blaze in rural forest land along the northern Sierra Nevada in Plumas County.

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