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Wildfire destroys dozens of homes in central California (Updated)

A Los Angeles City Fire Department helicopter flies over one of two wildfires in the Angeles National Forest

A fast-moving central California wildfire has scorched 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of parched and rugged terrain in less than a day, destroying 100 structures and injuring three firefighters, fire officials said on Friday.

Authorities told residents of 1,500 homes to evacuate and the number of threatened homes is likely to grow, Kern County Fire Department Brian Marshall said at a news conference.

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.

The three firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, officials said.

“Our firefighters have been engaged in a firefight of epic proportions, trying to save every structure possible,” Marshall said. “In a situation like this, there’s not enough firefighters and fire trucks to put in front of every structure.”

The fast-moving fire 150 miles (241 km) north of Los Angeles has destroyed 100 structures, including homes, outbuildings and detached garages, said Michael Nicholas, a spokesman for the multi-agency team handling the blaze.

Los Angeles television station KNBC showed footage of burned-out lots covered in gray ash, with only the metal frames of benches and virtually unrecognizable appliances not consumed by flames.

It was not immediately known if any residents might have died in the fire, Nicholas said.

More than 100 evacuees were sheltered at an elementary school in Kernville, on the other side of a water reservoir from the blaze, officials said.

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 flames from consuming more homes.

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.

The blaze was one of several large wildfires burning in parched California.

To the south, firefighters still were struggling to manage two fires in the foothills of Los Angeles County, dubbed the San Gabriel Complex.

As of Friday morning, it had burned more than 5,600 acres (2,266 hectares) of chaparral and short grass and containment lines had been drawn around 30 percent of its perimeter, according to fire tracking website InciWeb.

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