Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated and thousands of homes remain at risk tonight as wildfires tear through southern California, US authorities said.
Homes were ablaze from the beaches of Malibu – where celebrities including Barbra Streisand, Mel Gibson and record company executive David Geffen have houses – to the mountain retreats east of Los Angeles and south to Orange and San Diego counties to Mexico.
President George Bush declared a federal emergency as temperatures are still set to increase and conditions worsen as the gusts of the Santa Ana wind fanning the blazes increase in strength.
Mr Bush said: “All of us across this nation are concerned for the families who have lost their homes, and the many families who have been evacuated from their homes.
“We send our prayers and thoughts with those who’ve been affected, and we send the help of the federal government as well.”
As the fires burned for a third day, two people have died as at least a dozen wildfires destroyed more than 1,200 homes and businesses. At least 346,000 homes were evacuated in San Diego County alone, sheriff’s officials said.
But the total could be much higher, and state officials were still struggling to estimate how many people have fled.
Since they began on Sunday, the fires have burned at least 245,957 acres, or 384 square miles – an area larger than New York City.
Walls of flame whipped from mountain passes to the edges of California’s celebrated coastline, spreading so quickly that even hotels serving as temporary shelters for evacuees had to be evacuated.
Among those affected, British actress Jane Seymour said her husband James Keach was fighting the fire around their Malibu home.