California

Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area's first major fire of the year

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Strong winds pushed flames through dry brush in mountains along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles on Sunday, and officials warned residents in the wildfire's path to be prepared to leave if it explodes in size again.

Los Angeles County's first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to more than 19 square miles (40 square kilometers), one day after it forced the evacuation of at least 1,200 campers, off-roaders and hikers from the Hungry Valley recreation area.

The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just 2% contained. No injuries were reported. The cause was under investigation.

Firefighters working in sweltering conditions and steep terrain raced to douse spot fires that erupted as unpredictable winds blew embers ahead of the flames, said Kenichi Haskett, a section chief for the LA County Fire Department. The gusts also hampered efforts by aircraft crews to drop water and fire retardant, he said.

“When it’s windy, it just sprays the water everywhere we don’t need it. So that’s a challenge," Haskett said.

Meanwhile in Northern California, crews were protecting structures from a small wildfire sparked Sunday that prompted evacuation orders and warnings for a sparsely populated area of vineyards and rural estates near Lake Sonoma. The so-called Point Fire sent up a huge plume of dark smoke as powerful winds from the northwest pushed flames through brush and timber about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of San Francisco. It was 15% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Southern California's Post Fire erupted Saturday afternoon near I-5 in Gorman, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles. Two structures burned within the evacuated recreation area.

Flames were moving toward Pyramid Lake, a popular destination for boaters that was closed as a precaution on Father's Day. No houses were threatened Sunday, but officials warned some residents of Castaic, home to about 19,000 people, that they should prepare to leave if the fire pushes further south.

“If you’re in a warning area, be prepared with a ‘go bag,’ with overnight clothes and your cellphone, your medicines, your glasses. Have your car fueled up,” said Haskett. “Be ready to evacuate.”

Low humidity and gusts around 50 mph (80 kph) were expected throughout the day, and winds could pick up speed after sundown, warned the National Weather Service office for Los Angeles.

About 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the east, the 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) Hesperia Fire forced road closures and prompted evacuation warnings after it broke out Saturday near mountain communities in San Bernardino County. The blaze was 7% contained Sunday.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and radio reporter Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

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