June 26, 2015 / 5:50 PM / 4 years ago

Wildfires threaten thousands of homes in Southern California

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two wildfires burning in parched forestland east of Los Angeles threatened thousands of structures on Friday as crews battled to contain the blazes before shifts in the wind pushed them into new territory, officials said.

Fire personnel trucks are shown along a road in a burned out area of the Washington Fire near Markleeville, California in this handout photo released to Reuters June 24, 2015. REUTERS/Matt Call/ Nevada Department of Forestry/Handout

Mandatory evacuation orders for about a half-dozen communities in the San Bernardino mountains remained in effect on Friday, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Other evacuation orders could be issued if the fires continued to expand, it said.

The blazes are among hundreds of separate wildfires burning from Alaska to Arizona as the U.S. West enters a wildfire season that experts fear could be especially destructive due to a crippling drought in California and parts of the Southwest and low snowpack in the Pacific Northwest.

The larger of the two blazes in Southern California, the Lake fire, had grown to 29,813 acres on Friday and was 19 percent contained, according to the fire-tracking website InciWeb, which gathers information from multiple agencies.

A chance of thunderstorms in the area on Sunday and Monday could help dampen some hot spots, while lightning strikes could spark new blazes and gusts of wind could expand the existing blazes, the U.S. Forest Service said.

More than 7,300 homes and structures were threatened and four firefighters have been injured, officials said.

A much smaller fire, the Sterling fire, was burning near the city of San Bernardino, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Work containing that blaze was temporarily halted on Thursday because of a civilian drone aircraft in the area, InciWeb reported. On Wednesday, a plane that was to drop retardant near the Lake fire had to abort the plan due to drone activity, it said.

Firefighters warned that it was illegal to fly drones in restricted airspace near wildfires.

In Alaska, about 300 separate wildfires were burning across the state, marking an unusually early and busy start to its wildfire season, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

The village of Aniak in the southwestern part of the state asked residents to evacuate because of the heavy layer of smoke from a nearby blaze.

“The fire is getting close to their houses,” city manager Megan Leary told the Alaska Dispatch News. “It’s really scary stuff.”

Fires were also burning in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state. Nearly a dozen blazes have erupted in the past week in Arizona, fire officials said.

Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bill Trott and Lisa Lambert

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