8 May 2009

Wildfires force thousands from California homes

4:12 pm on 8 May 2009

Thousands of people in the United States have left their homes as a wildfire threatens the town of Santa Barbara in California.

The rapidly moving blaze has burned more than 500 acres, leading California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency.

The fire is proving extremely difficult to bring under control, the governor said during a tour of the area.

An estimated 13,500 people have been told to evacuate as the blaze continues for a third day, edging towards the town.

At least 10 firefighters have been injured, three seriously, in the blaze which is being investigated as possible arson.

Santa Barbara, with its idyllic climate and lush countryside, is often referred to as the American Riviera.

Since Wednesday, the fire has moved ever nearer to the seaside town. TV pictures show flames destroying several large hillside properties in the exclusive region.

US media reports say at least 20 structures have been destroyed and some 2,000 homes are threatened.

Forecasters predict more strong winds and the BBC reports it may take several days to bring the blaze under control.