Firefighters injured, homes destroyed in new California wildfire

The so-called Erskine Fire broke out on Thursday at about 4 p.m. PDT (2300 GMT) in the foothills of Kern County, about 42 miles (68 km) northeast of Bakersfield, drawing in hundreds of firefighters to battle the entirely unconfined blaze.

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Scene of California wildfire disaster.

(Reuters)
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Three firefighters were injured in a central California wildfire that has scorched 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) of parched and rugged terrain in less than a day, destroying 80 homes and forcing the evacuation of hundreds more, fire officials said on Friday.

The so-called Erskine Fire broke out on Thursday at about 4 p.m. PDT (2300 GMT) in the foothills of Kern County, about 42 miles (68 km) northeast of Bakersfield, drawing in hundreds of firefighters to battle the entirely unconfined blaze.

Three of the first responders were hospitalized for smoke inhalation while fighting the fire, officials said.

"Our firefighters have been engaged in a firefight of epic proportions, trying to save every structure possible," Kern County Fire Department Brian Marshall said at a news conference.

The number of firefighters battling the blaze is expected to grow to as many as 700 throughout the day.

Fire crews will bulldoze containment lines, while air tankers drop water and fire retardant in an effort to stop the flames from consuming more homes, Marshall said.

About 1,500 residences have been evacuated and the number of threatened homes is likely to grow, he said.

"In a situation like this, there's not enough firefighters and fire trucks to put in front of every structure," Marshall said.

The extreme heat and dry land are expected to make the fire worse through Friday, Marshall said, adding that he was hoping for mild and cooperative winds to aid in the firefight.

State officials said they secured a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help manage the inferno.

That fire was one of several large blazes burning through parched California.

To the south, firefighters still were struggling to manage a pair of blazes burning in the foothills of Los Angeles County, dubbed the San Gabriel Complex.

As of Thursday night, it had burned more than 5,200 acres of chaparral and short grass, and containment lines had only been drawn around 15 percent of the fire's perimeter, fire information website InciWeb said.

In San Diego County, authorities lifted evacuation orders for the Mexican border community of Portrero on Thursday, saying crews had cut containment lines around more than a third of a wildfire that has blackened some 7,350 acres.

Evacuation orders remained in force for residents of two other mountain communities. Flames already have destroyed five homes and roughly a dozen outbuildings since Sunday. 

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