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California declares state of emergency over wildfire

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A firefighter battles flames from the Sherpa Fire, June 16.

US officials have declared a state of emergency in southern California after a raging wildfire has more than tripled in size in the past week.

A blistering heat wave that began this weekend in the southern part of the state, along with strong winds, could further fan the wildfire.            

The blaze forced authorities to close a major highway and widen their evacuation orders to move people out of danger.

Officials said they have also placed at least 270 homes and businesses under evacuation orders and cleared out camp-grounds and state beaches.

“We're here at the beginning of June and we're seeing very active fires, very similar to behavior that we would typically see in the fall,” said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the Cal-Fire firefighting agency.

A firefighting DC-10 Air Tanker drops fire retardant on the Sherpa Fire near Santa Barbara, California,  June 17, 2016. (AFP photo)

The so-called Sherpa Fire feeding on chaparral and grass about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Santa Barbara tripled in size from 1,200 acres (486 hectares) on Thursday night to more than 4,000 acres (1,619 hectares) early on Friday, fire officials said.

The Sherpa Fire has generated “fire tornadoes” of swirling flames and threatened at least 270 structures, leading hundreds of people to evacuate ranches and houses in the area.

It also forced authorities to declare an emergency for Santa Barbara County and periodically close a stretch of the 101 Freeway.

According to tracking website, over 1,200 firefighters were battling the fire which was only 5 percent contained.

Investigators are seeking to determine what sparked the blaze on Wednesday in Los Padres National Forest, located in southern and central California.

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