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Raging wildfire engulfs California homes, film set

Firefighters battle a blaze dubbed the “Sand Fire” as it moves towards Fair Oaks Canyon housing estate in Santa Clarita, California © AFP / Mark Ralston

Thousands of firefighters battled to contain a blaze tearing through suburban Los Angeles, destroying homes and a popular filming location and threatening actress Tippi Hedren’s animal sanctuary.

The so-called Sand Fire in the Santa Clarita Valley has scorched more than 55 square miles (142 square kilometers) of brush, threatening at least 2,000 properties and forcing an estimated 20,000 residents to flee.

About 10,000 homes have been evacuated since the fire broke out Friday near Sand Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, according to law enforcement officers.

Around 20 homes have been destroyed, officials said, including two belonging to firefighters.

Police are investigating the death of a badly charred unidentified man, found in a car parked in the driveway of a house in the fire zone.

The blaze was just 10 percent contained as of Monday morning, according to Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby.

Firemen watch as a helicopter drops retardant on a fire off Placerita Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, California on July 25, 2016 © AFP / Frederic J. Brown

Around 3,000 firefighters and 26 helicopters have been deployed to tackle the inferno, which blackened the skies over Los Angeles over the weekend. Many roads and highways were partly closed.

The ferocious blaze destroyed much of Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, which has Western-style buildings used for movie locations.

“We’ve had fires before here and we had always been able to defend it. But this one, this one was a beast. It was a big fire. You could hear it coming. You could hear the ‘fffrrrrrrrr,’ the grumbling and the rumbling,” owner Hunt told AFP.

Hunt’s father and grandfather did the construction work in the 1970s.

The ranch has been the site of various television and film shoots, including “24,” “The A-Team,” “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” and “Maverick.”

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The only showbiz structure left was a giant metal dinosaur that was going to be used on a Netflix series.

“We were able to save it. They couldn’t destroy the beast,” he added.

A fireman runs to put out a fire off Placerita Canyon Road in Santa Clarita, California on July 25, 2016 © AFP / Frederic J. Brown

Forest fires are a fact of life in much of California but have become far worse because of bone-dry conditions, with the Golden State gripped in its fifth year of drought.

The Sand Fire has turned out to be one of the worst in this region in decades. It spread fast as it was fueled over the weekend by high temperatures and strong wind.

– Melted furniture –

Most people have abandoned their homes in Sand Canyon.

Mary and Bill Sloan were out of town in Las Vegas and rushed back when they heard about the fire. Their son was home but he managed to evacuate.

“The fence melted some of our furniture. It had to been thrown into the pool because it caught on fire,” Mary Sloan told AFP.

“I have asthma. I could not breathe. My baby could not breathe. My baby is so sick and kept crying,” said Rehab Moawad, 39, who was at a Red Cross shelter set up at a school with his 14-year-old son Badr.

Residents stand in their yard as they watch an approaching fire at Fair Oaks Canyon in Santa Clarita, California © AFP / Mark Ralston

Hedren’s animal sanctuary, Shambala Preserve, was also forced to move 340 of its more than 400 residents, including Bengal tigers and a mountain lion, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“Please say a prayer for all residents in the path of the #SandFire. My Moms place Shambala is being evacuated,” the actress Melanie Griffith, who is Hedren’s daughter, tweeted on Sunday.

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Hedren, who founded the sanctuary in the desert community of Acton in 1972, kept a lion in the family home when Griffith was a teenager.

Around five hours later she added: “Mom is safe! Shambala is safe. Now sending love and thanks to all the firefighters who saved her and the cats…”

Meanwhile a wildfire about 300 miles up the coast, outside the Big Sur tourist region, has grown to more than 23 square miles, destroying 20 homes and threatening at least 1,600 more.

In May, fires near Los Angeles pushed 5,000 people out of their homes in the affluent Calabasas area, an LA suburb which is home to many celebrities including members of the Kardashian family.


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