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September 26, 2017

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Wildfires raging across southern California as residents flee chaos

SAN MARCOS, California--Raging wildfires threatened more homes Thursday after thousands of residents fled towering flames fanned by high winds and record-breaking temperatures in baking southern California.

On a third day of infernos which have destroyed at least 20 homes in San Diego County, firefighters concentrated their efforts on hillsides in the San Marcos area, 55 kilometers north of the city of San Diego.

"All available resources are being mobilized to battle this blaze. San Marcos is the top regional priority and state-wide support has been deployed," local fire chiefs said in a statement.

"Mandatory evacuations in the City of San Marcos are still in place," it added, saying that 13,000 orders had been given and hundreds of people had taken to shelters, waiting to see if their homes would survive.

An 18-unit apartment block was ravaged in nearby Carlsbad, where at least three other homes were reported hit by the advancing flames Wednesday and Thursday. A Legoland amusement park there remained closed.

Robbie Richard of the San Marcos Fire Department told AFP that record temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (nearly 40 degrees Celsius) and the Santa Ana winds were making it extremely challenging for his men.

"We are looking at temperatures that are exceeding a hundred degrees today. These fields are already very, very dry, some of these fields haven't even burn for a decade," he said.

California and other western U.S. states are routinely hit with wildfires during the summer and fall, but blazes have occurred earlier in the year in recent times. So many blazes at once in only mid-May is very rare.

"It is very early," said Richard.

On Wednesday, about a dozen non-essential staff at the San Onofre nuclear power plant were evacuated "as a precaution" due to nearby brush fires, while crews doused surrounding vegetation with water as a preventive measure.

A number of decades-old records for mid-May temperatures have been broken or equaled.

Downtown Los Angeles sizzled in temperatures of 101 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, tying a record dating back to 1970. At LAX international airport a reading of 97 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded, breaking the previous record of 94 degrees F there in 1970.

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