Two wind-fuelled wildfires raged out of control north of Los Angeles on Monday, leaving one man dead, dozens of homes destroyed and at least 1,200 people evacuated, officials said.
More than 1,000 firefighters have been deployed to tackle ferocious walls of flames being driven towards residential areas in the San Fernando Valley by the region's powerful Santa Ana winds.
as well the closure of several schools.
Los Angeles County coroner's official Ed Winter said the first fatality of the wildfires appeared to be a homeless man living in a wood and cardboard shelter beneath a freeway interchange.
The California Highway Patrol said a second fatality occurred when a car crashed on a smoke-shrouded stretch of freeway near one of the fires, a 2,000-acre blaze near the northern Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch.
"It's a very dangerous situation," county fire Chief Michael Freeman said. One longtime Porter Ranch resident who fled his home described smoke that was "so thick, you could cut it with a knife."
"You couldn't breathe there," Randy Stalk told reporters. "It was horrible."
The biggest fire was blazing across 3,200 acres in the Angeles National Forest near the San Fernando and Lakeview Terrace.
The fire was only five percent contained as firecrews struggled to get a grip on the flames in the face of ferocious gusts that sent the inferno leaping over containment lines.
"As expected, the Santa Ana winds came up and blew the fire out of our containment lines," Los Angeles fire chief Freeman told reporters, urging residents to heed evacuation orders when requested.
"In some situations, you may not even be able to outrun the fire if you're that close to it," Freeman said. "It is extremely hot, and even from 30 or 40 feet can be hot enough to maybe set one's shirt or clothing on fire."
The flames sent thick clouds of black smoke belching across the area and had destroyed a total of 37 mobile homes. The fire broke out early Sunday but its cause is unknown, fire department officials said.
The National Weather Service has warned that wind gusts of between 50-70 mph were expected in mountains and canyons.
California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds and recent housing booms which have seen housing spread rapidly into rural and densely forested areas.
The latest fire comes roughly one year after devastating wildfires that were among the worst in California history left eight people dead, destroyed 2,000 homes, displaced 640,000 people and caused one billion dollars in damage.
In June and July this year, a series of about 2,000 fires raged across the state, scorching some 900,000 acres (3,500 square kilometers) of land, according to officials.