A pair of Santa Barbara County wildfires quickly spread Saturday, threatening hundreds of homes and forcing evacuations at a popular lakeside campground and a summer camp where flames temporarily trapped children and counselors, a fire official said.
The fire that started in the early afternoon had spread to both sides of Highway 154 and was “completely out of control,” county fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said. About 90 children and 50 counselors were struck at the Circle V Ranch and had to take shelter there until they could be safely evacuated.
The fire was one of three in the state that grew quickly as much of California baked in heat that broke records in parts of Southern California.
Excessive heat sent Southern Californians flocking to beaches and in search of water, shade and air conditioning to escape the heat.
Forecasters warned that triple-digit temperatures up to 110 degrees would be common in some inland areas and could be deadly for the elderly, children and outdoor workers. Air quality reached unhealthy and very unhealthy in areas inland from Los Angeles.
High temps and dry gusts tripled the size of another Santa Barbara wildfire to nearly 30 square miles (about 77 sq. kilometers) over eight hours and forced evacuations of about 200 homes in a rural area east of Santa Maria, fire spokesman Kirk Sturm said.
After five years of severe drought, California got a big break with record rainfall and snowpack in parts of the state this year that has delayed the start of fire season in some places, but has also led to explosive vegetation growth that could fuel future fires.
In Northern California, a Butte County wildfire swept through grassy foothills and destroyed 10 structures, including homes, and led to several minor injuries.
Burned-out pickup trucks were left in ashes, surrounded by charred, leafless trees. The metal frame of a mobile home and a vintage stove were left standing in scorched debris at one site.
The blaze about 60 miles north of Sacramento grew rapidly to more than 3 square miles (7 sq. kilometers) and was only 5 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The area burning was about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Oroville, where spillways in the nation’s tallest dam began crumbling from heavy rains this winter and led to temporary evacuation orders for 200,000 residents downstream.
In the middle of the afternoon, Santa Barbara officials sent out alerts to residents and campers near Cachuma Lake to evacuate as the fire started near Whittier Camp, Zaniboni said.
The lake, which was nearly bone dry last summer after the severe drought, is popular for camping, boating and fishing. Residents were also ordered to leave cabins in the Los Padres National Forest.
The fire burned at least 200 acres (80 hectares) and was not contained.