SAN DIEGO- Thousands of people fled raging wildfires in southern California which destroyed homes and triggered evacuations at a nuclear power plant, a military base and a Legoland amusement park.
The blazes, which also closed a major north-south highway, come amid record temperatures in the western US state, where the annual wildfire season typically starts much later in the year.
At least 15 buildings have been destroyed, including three homes, said Michael Davis, fire chief in the seaside resort of Carlsbad, north of San Diego.
“At times it looks like there’s fire in the sky with the wind whipping back and forth,” eyewitness Ryan Marble, waiting in a long line at a gas station to get fuel to evacuate, told The Los Angeles Times newspaper.
About a dozen non-essential staff at the San Onofre nuclear power plant were evacuated “as a precaution” due to a nearby brush fire, the plant said on its Twitter feed.
Twenty thousand people were asked to evacuate their homes near San Diego on Tuesday night, although the order was later lifted as firefighters got the upper hand on the blaze.
But on Wednesday multiple fires erupted, including two at the Camp Pendleton base between Los Angeles and San Diego where a naval weapons station was evacuated, along with military housing and a school.
The fire charred brush along the nearby Interstate 5 freeway which runs up and down the West Coast, at one point forcing its closure, although some lanes were later re-opened.
In nearby Carlsbad fires burned homes, downed power lines and forced evacuations of homeowners, as well as schoolchildren and tourists at the Legoland amusement park.
“The city of Carlsbad has done very well in clearing (brush around) those (threatened) homes, but when you have a wind-driven fire, it makes it very difficult,” said Cal Fire captain Mike Mohler.
“This is a very difficult firefight. This is an urban wildland firefight, so it is definitely more difficult than you would see in a more rural setting.”
California and other western US states are routinely hit with wildfires during the summer and fall, but blazes have occurred earlier in the year in recent times.
Southern California including Los Angeles has been bracing for record temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) this week, with authorities opening cooling centers for those otherwise unable to escape the heat.