Almost 200,000 people have been forced from their homes by wildfires rampaging through California as firefighters on Thursday raced to tackle another new blaze.
The number of evacuees almost quadrupled as a fifth fire broke out to the north of San Diego.
Fire crews are struggling to contain the blazes which are being fanned by the region’s Santa Ana winds, which could yet reach hurricane force.
The hot, dry winds blow in from the California desert, and the state CAL Fire agency warned that gusty condition and low humidity would exacerbate the danger throughout the weekend.
The blazes destroyed hundreds of home and forced many schools around Los Angeles to close.
Flames skipped over highways and railroad tracks, and residents rushed to evacuate their homes with only minutes’ warning, some leaving behind holiday gifts. People feared for the safety of animals from cats to llamas amid reports that dozens of horses had been killed.
North of San Diego, the newest blaze called the Lilac Fire grew from 10 acres to 2,500 acres in just a few hours on Thursday, according to fire crews, prompting Jerry Brown, governor of California, to declare a state of emergency for San Diego County.
The blaze destroyed 20 structures and prompted evacuations and road closures. Propane tanks under several houses exploded from the heat.
The other fires, which broke out on Monday and Tuesday, have reached into the wealthy enclave of Bel-Air on Los Angeles’ West Side. Some major highways in the densely populated area were intermittently closed.
Firefighters and helicopters sprayed and dumped bucketloads of water to try to contain the flames against a hellish backdrop of flaming mountains and walls of smoke.
One death has been reported so far although authorities said they could not yet be sure whether the female body found in a car in Ventura County was the result of an accident or the fire.
Three firefighters have also been injured, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
In the seaside enclave of Faria Beach, caught between burning mountains and the Pacific Ocean, northwest of Ventura, fires spread down the smoking hills. Flames jumped the heavily used US 101 highway and headed toward clusters of beach houses. Firefighters lined up along a railroad track, the last barrier from the flames.
Surrounded by strong winds and smoke, Songsri Kesonchampa aimed a garden hose at a large pine tree between her Faria Beach house and the fire, attempting to fend off disaster.
“If this tree catches fire, the strong wind will blow the flames towards my house. I need to protect this tree,” she said.
As she spoke, a sheriff’s car drove by, ordering residents to leave. “The fire is here. You must evacuate your homes right now,” an officer said over the loudspeaker.
In the coastal city of Ventura, Maurice Shimabuku said his friends told him to flee but he was staying put for now, feeling safe because he was near the Pacific Ocean.
“I know I can just run back out that way, so I am relatively safe,” he said. “I even have a surfboard and a wetsuit in my backyard right now, if I need to paddle away.”
Heavy smoke made breathing hazardous in some areas, and residents were urged to stay inside. Ventura County authorities said air pollution measures in the Ojai Valley were “off the charts”.
The Los Angeles County animal shelter said it was hosting 184 pets including llamas, donkeys and horses while reports said 29 horses were burned to death on Tuesday at a ranch in the Sylmar neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The Skirball Fire in Los Angeles has forced hundreds of residents in the wooded hills near the Bel-Air neighbourhood to leave and charred more than 475 acres (192 hectares).
Jeremy Broekman was camped out at his in-laws’ house in Sherman Oaks after evacuating his family of five early Wednesday from their home a mile away from the Skirball fire.
Mr Broekman, who runs a public relations firm from his home office, had just an hour to get his family out of the house, grabbing hard drives and Pokemon cards and leaving behind a pile of Hannukah presents. He spent Thursday trying to work and checking the news while also caring for his three children, whose schools were closed because of the fire.
“Although we always say we can work remotely with the use of a laptop, when you are displaced like this you are emotionally unbalanced,” he said.
Skirball threatened media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s Moraga Estate winery. The property was evacuated, with possible damage to some buildings, Mr Murdoch said in a statement, but “We believe the winery and house are still intact.”