By Alex Dobuzinskis
Hundreds of firefighters were building barriers and constructing containment lines early on Friday to slow an approaching wildfire threatening to torch thousands of homes in a lakeside community southeast of Los Angeles.
More than 21,000 people have been evacuated in and around Lake Elsinore, where furious flames and billowing smoke rose into the sky at the edge of the city of 60,000 as the blaze, dubbed the Holy Fire, burned nearby in the Santa Ana Mountains.
The fire has been fueled by dry brush covering steep terrain and stoked by wind gusts during the night, a spokesman for the incident said.
Three firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the relatively small blaze, which has consumed more than 18,000 acres (7,200 hectares) since it began on Tuesday, fire officials said.
Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the area on Thursday, freeing up additional resources to battle the blaze. Forrest Clark, 51, was charged with setting the fire, the Orange County District Attorney Office said.
The Holy Fire was one of several fires burning in California that have displaced tens of thousands of people. Smoke from the western wildfires has reached the East Coast and beyond, the National Weather Service has said.
About 5.4 million acres (2.2 million hectares) have been charred in more than a dozen states during this year's extremely active wildfire season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Wildfires across California and the region could be further stoked by strong gusts, low humidity and hot weather on Friday and Saturday, forecasters warned.
In Northern California, a mechanic helping to fight the Carr Fire, burning around Redding, was killed in a traffic collision on Thursday, bringing the death toll from that blaze to eight, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said. The 181,000-acre Carr Fire has destroyed nearly 1,100 homes. It was 51 percent contained with firefighters struggling in steep terrain to control it, CalFire said.
About 100 miles southwest of the Carr Fire, nearly 4,000 firefighters are battling the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has burned 307,000 acres in three counties north of San Francisco, CalFire said.
Two firefighters were injured and 119 homes destroyed by that fire, which now ranks as the largest fire on record in the state.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Miwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Steve Orlofsky)