California wildfires burn amid high risk of brutal blazes

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The Ranch Fire burns over a residential area, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Azusa, Calif. Heat wave conditions were making difficult work for fire crews battling brush fires and wildfires across Southern California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES – Firefighters struggling to contain three wildfires near Los Angeles faced another challenging day Saturday as forecasters warned that the risk of new fires was high with temperatures expected to spike and humidity levels to drop across California.

A huge forest fire that prompted evacuations north of Los Angeles flared up Friday afternoon, sending up an enormous cloud of smoke as it headed down to the desert floor and the California aqueduct in the Antelope Valley. Fire crews managed to stop its movement there but additional evacuations were ordered for the western Antelope Valley.

In one dramatic moment, several firefighters ran to safety when a longhorn bull that was apparently escaping the blaze charged at them.

The so-called Lake Fire was just 12% contained as of Saturday morning, and after threatening more than 5,400 homes, it had charred more than 23 square miles (59.5 square kilometers) of brush and trees. Fire officials said 21 buildings had been destroyed, including at least five homes.

The blaze was in the Angeles National Forest near Lake Hughes.

Firefighters were struggling in steep, rugged terrain amid scorching temperatures. The National Weather Service warned temperatures could hit 111 degrees (44 Celsius) in the Antelope Valley Saturday, and winds gusting 15-20 mph (24-32 kph) was expected later in the afternoon.

“In addition to that, we have a very unstable air mass over the Lake Fire that's going to allow for a pyrocumulus (cloud) development later today so that will create extreme fire behavior,” NWS meteorologist Matt Mehle said.

Record-breaking heat is possible through the weekend, with triple-digit temperatures and unhealthy air predicted for many parts of the state. There also was a chance of isolated thunderstorms worsening the fire threat by creating dry lightning and strong downdrafts, fire officials said