California wildfires are spreading quickly, threatening hundreds of homes and forcing evacuations at a summer camp where flames temporarily trapped children.

A fire in Santa Barbara County that started in the early yesterday afternoon had spread to both sides of Highway 154 and was “completely out of control,” county fire Captain Dave Zaniboni said.

About 90 children and 50 counsellors were at the Circle V Ranch and had to take shelter there until they could be safely evacuated.

 

The fire was one of three in the state that grew quickly as much of California baked in record heat.

 

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A record that stood for 131 years in Los Angeles was beaten when the temperature reached 36.6C.

The previous record of 35C was set in 1886, the National Weather Service said.

Excessive heat sent Southern Californians flocking to beaches and in search of water, shade and air conditioning.

Forecasters warned triple-digit temperatures up to 43.3C degrees would be common in some inland areas and could be deadly for the elderly, children and outdoor workers. Air quality reached unhealthy and very unhealthy in areas inland from Los Angeles.

High temps and dry gusts tripled the size of another Santa Barbara wildfire to nearly 30 square miles over eight hours and forced evacuations of about 200 homes in a rural area east of Santa Maria, fire spokesman Kirk Sturm said.

After five years of severe drought, California got a big break with record rainfall in parts of the state this year that has delayed the start of fire season in some places, but has also led to explosive vegetation growth that could fuel future blazes.

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In Northern California, a Butte County wildfire swept through grassy foothills and destroyed 10 structures, including homes, and led to several minor injuries.

Burned-out pick-up trucks were left in ashes, surrounded by charred, leafless trees. The metal frame of a mobile home and a vintage stove were left standing in scorched debris at one site.

The blaze about 60 miles north of Sacramento grew rapidly to more than 3 square miles and was only 5% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The authorities issued an evacuation for about 250 homes threatened by the fire.