FALLBROOK, California (AP) – Firefighters in Southern California were on high alert for dangerous fire potential even before the first blazes broke out.
But once flames met ferocious winds, fire crews were mostly powerless to stop infernos that destroyed more than 750 buildings, killed dozens of horses and forced hundreds of thousands of people to run from six out-of-control fires that have burned over 270 square miles since Monday.
"The crews were trying to stay out ahead of this as quickly as they could," said Capt. Kendal Bortisser of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. "As we know, when a tornado hits the Midwest, there's no stopping it. When a hurricane hits the East Coast, there's no stopping it. When Santa Ana winds come in, there's no stopping them."
Firefighters gained ground on all the fires and most evacuees were allowed to return home. President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration allowing counties affected by the wildfires to receive federal assistance.
Yet danger persisted. Vegetation is bone dry, there's been hardly any rainfall and winds were expected to gust up to 50 mph over the weekend in the Los Angeles and Ventura areas, the National Weather Service said.
Fires have taken people by surprise over a large swath of Southern California since the biggest fire broke out Monday.
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