Wildfires surge amid scorching heat across US West

A crew member with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) battles a brushfire on the hillside in Burbank, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. Several hundred firefighters worked to contain a blaze that chewed through brush-covered mountains, prompting evacuation orders for more than 600 homes in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

LOS ANGELES (AP) Ash rained down across Los Angeles Sunday from a destructive wildfire that the mayor said was the largest in city history – one of several blazes that sent thousands fleeing homes across the U.S. West during a blistering holiday weekend heat wave.

In Oregon about 140 hikers were awaiting rescue early Sunday after being forced to spend the night in the woods after fire broke out along the popular Columbia River Gorge trail. Search and rescue crews air-dropped supplies on Saturday as flames prevented the hikers’ escape. Wildfires also entered a 2,700-year-old grove of giant sequoia trees near Yosemite National Park and have driven people from their homes in Montana and other areas struggling with a weeklong heat wave that has gripped the region.

In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed a state of emergency across all counties as three major fires closed recreation areas and prompted evacuations in a mountain town just southeast of Seattle.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a local emergency and asked the governor to do the same after a wildfire in densely populated hillside areas destroyed three homes. Hundreds of firefighters battled flames that chewed through nearly 8 square miles (20 kilometers) of brush-covered mountains as authorities issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders for more than 700 homes in Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale.

Los Angeles resident Tracy Goldman had her car packed in case officials ordered her street to evacuate.

“It’s very unsettling,” she said by telephone as she watched flames that she said had reached within 200 feet of her house.

Tourists snapped shots of their planes landing against a backdrop of orange flames in the hills near Hollywood Burbank airport.

San Francisco on Saturday set a heat record for the day before noon, hitting 94 degrees. By the afternoon it was 101 in the coastal city – hotter than Phoenix. With an all-time high of 106 on Friday, it became just the third time since the 1870s that San Francisco had back-to-back triple-digit days.

Temperatures reached 115 south of the city. It was a rare heat wave at a time of year that San Francisco residents usually call “Fogust” for its cloudy chill.

The weekend also broke heat records in wine counties north of San Francisco, where Labor Day for some vineyards marks the start of the busy grape harvest.

“We had been hoping for a mellow season,” Kat Doescher, senior winemaker at Madrone Estate Winery outside Sonoma, said shortly after sunrise. “But I look at the forecasts, and I see a heat wave that’s not getting any cooler.”

Other vineyard managers fretted over how best to soothe and when to pick their own heat-stressed grapes.

Fires up and down California’s Sierra Nevada and further to the northwest cast an eerie yellow and gray haze. In the Sierra foothills, authorities opened a center where evacuated residents could find out if their home was one of 44 destroyed in a blaze about 70 miles (about 110 kilometers) north of Sacramento.

Another wildfire burning near Yosemite had grown to 8.5 square miles (22 square kilometers) and entered the Nelder Grove of 106 giant sequoias, despite firefighters’ efforts to stave it off.

Giant sequoias are among the largest and longest-lived organisms on Earth, and survive naturally only in Northern California.

Fire officials said they had no immediate information Saturday on whether any of the giant trees – including the 100-foot-round, 24-story-high Bull Buck sequoia – had burned.

In the Pacific Northwest, high temperatures and a lack of rain this summer have dried out vegetation that fed on winter snow and springtime rain. Officials warned of wildfire danger as hot, dry, smoky days were forecast across Oregon and Washington over the holiday weekend.

A fire about 80 miles (129 kilometers) southeast of Seattle has burned more than 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) and led to new evacuation notices Saturday. About 3,800 homes were threatened, authorities said.

Dozens of wildfires in Oregon were sending up large plumes of smoke, causing disruptions in holiday travel and shutting down camping areas.

The weeklong heat wave was generated by high pressure over the West, the National Weather Service said.

Forecasters said more heat could be expected when remnants of Tropical Storm Lidia move north from Mexico’s Baja California during the weekend.