Five dead and hundreds homeless in California wildfires

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California authorities recovered the bodies of four more people killed in wildfires raging in the central part of the state, bringing the death toll to five, officials said Thursday.

The remains of four men who died separately in the Valley fire, north of San Francisco, and the Butte fire, south-east of the capital Sacramento, were discovered Wednesday, officials in Lake and Calaveras counties told news media.

A 72-year-old disabled woman was killed as she tried to flee the Valley fire Saturday.

Hundreds of people have been left homeless by the two fires, which have together destroyed more than 800 homes and burned more than 582 square kilometers of land – an area larger than Kuwait – in the course of little more than a week.

The cause of both fires is under investigation. The electricity utility told local media one of its power lines may have sparked the Butte fire September 9.

Firefighters made some headway in fighting the fires, helped by rain and cooling temperatures.

The Butte fire was 49 per cent contained Thursday, and the Valley fire was 35 per cent contained, state fire agency Cal Fire said.

A forest fire that threatened some of the world’s oldest and largest trees in California’s Sequoia National Park was two-thirds contained, the federal National Wildfire Coordinating Group said.

The so-called Rough fire has burned more than 570 square kilometers, among the largest fires ever in the state, according to Cal Fire.

California and other western US states are prone to late summer wildfires that burn dry brush. But four years of drought that have parched fields and forests have contributed to make the 2015 fire season the most destructive in at least a decade.

A total of six large fires were burning in California, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre. Large forest fires were also burning in the western US states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Wildfires in the US this year have burned more than 35,751 square kilometres so far – an area larger than Taiwan, and nearly the size of Switzerland.

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