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California Firefighters Make Limited Progress Against Unusually Intense Wildfire

  • VOA News

Firefighters battle a wildfire on Cajon Boulevard in Keenbrook, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2016.

Firefighters battle a wildfire on Cajon Boulevard in Keenbrook, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2016.

Firefighters in the western U.S. state of California have made limited progress containing a wildfire that has torched nearly 13,000 hectares, incinerated homes and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.

"It hit hard. It hit fast. It hit with an intensity that we hadn't see before," said San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig. "There will be a lot of families that come home to nothing."

Fire officials said dozens of homes have been burned but were not able to confirm the number.

The fire, which began Tuesday, is in a mountainous area north of the city of San Bernardino, burning brush and sending large amounts of white and black smoke into the sky. More than 1,500 firefighters are already on the ground and more are on their way to help.

California is used to seeing wildfires during the warm summer months, but this fire grew unusually quickly. How it started is under investigation.

"We are in the fifth year of the drought, so that in combination with the hot weather, low relative humidity and winds that we've been having is resulting in a fire that's moving very fast, very intense," said Cal Fire spokesman Henry Herrera.

In Photos: California Wildfire

With the fire only 4 percent contained, the threat of it spreading prompted authorities to order more than 82,000 people to evacuate about 34,000 homes.

Many evacuees, such as Shawn Brady, were left wondering if their homes were still intact. Although he has not received official word on its status, a preliminary account from his neighbor was not promising. "What I've been told is that flames are currently ripping through my house," said Brady, a dockworker who lives near the evacuated town of Wrightwood.

Area residents were told their evacuation would help firefighters focus on battling the blazes and not having to rescue anyone who stays and ends up in trouble. Still, some people are reluctant to go.

"I'm not leaving because we're surrounded by all greenery and once the fire gets down to the bottom, they should be able to put it out right there," said resident Joe Cole.

Others say they are prepared to leave if the flames reach their neighborhood.

"If the first house catches on fire or the fire breaks this mountain here, then I'm gone," said Nico Santucci, who added that he had two vans packed and waiting. "We are going to stay to the last minute and hope for the best."

WATCH: Firefighters battle blaze

U.S. government officials have said outbreaks of major wildfires in Southern California are likely to continue until December, given the dry and warm weather conditions.