Wildfires threaten homes, businesses in California and New Mexico

A wildfire churning through coastal canyons west of Santa Barbara has ballooned to more than 6 square miles.

About 800 firefighters and a fleet of aircraft were assigned to the battle.

A wildfire burns in Los Padres National Forest, on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, north of Santa Barbara, in Goleta, Calif.

The blaze burned down to USA 101 overnight, forcing closure of one of California's major north-south highways from 8:30 p.m. Thursday until it was reopened shortly before dawn Friday.

A blaze in central New Mexico exploded to almost 19 square miles and forced residents to flee at least 50 homes after sending up a towering plume of smoke that blanketed the state's largest city in a thick haze.

The Sherpa Fire appeared to support national wildfire authorities' predictions of another risky and hard year for the state after years of drought.

On Twitter The Los Padres National Forest division of the U.S. Forest Service posted Friday that the fire had spread to 4 thousand acres, and the flames had only been contained at 5 percent.

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Authorities said they expect the fire to increase in size.

Officials widened their evacuation orders to move people and horses out of danger, Bierman said.

Firefighters have had problems reaching the narrow, brush-choked canyons to attack the flames.

"I mean, it's just completely crowded traffic, and you can see active flames on the hills very near us", she said. "Somebody has to take care of my cows".

Santa Barbara County Fire Department Public Information Officer David Zaniboni said the main concern was keeping everyone safe from the encroaching flames.

It has been dry in the region for more than two weeks, said weather.com meteorologist Linda Lam.

More than 1,200 firefighters have been dispatched to battle the flames being fueled by dry chaparral and grass in coastal canyons about 20 miles northwest of the affluent city of Santa Barbara.

The fire was expanding and a freeway, USA 101, was closed for a second night.

"The good news is the 101 has reopened", said Steve Larson, a lieutenant with the agency, as he repeated a phrase he used during the Thursday's news conference. "There's probably going to be more closures".

"There isn't a lot of marine layer (ocean humidity) so not great conditions for firefighting", Diane Black, a joint incident command manager, said in a phone interview.

"Our defensive strategy will continue to emphasize protection of life and property while we look for a place to turn the corner and push this back up into the mountains and get full containment", he said.

Firefighters struggled to contain infernos across the western United States as experts warned that drought-stricken California should prepare for an unusually intense wildfire season.

"This is a serious fire", New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said.

"If you are a farmer or rancher and you believe your crops or livestock will be impacted by the Sherpa Fire we stand ready to assist", County Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Fisher said.

There has been a mandatory evacuation order for several areas as the homes and ranches were still potentially at risk depending on the direction of the winds.

A wind-driven wildfire in Santa Barbara County, dubbed the Sherpa Fire, has charred more than 7,600 acres as of Saturday morning and is 45 percent contained.

  • Archie Newman