5 dead in California wildfires, Malibu evacuated

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At least nine people have been killed and more than 150,000 evacuated as two big wildfires rage in California, officials say.

It was also threatening parts of nearby Thousand Oaks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of the shooting massacre earlier this week.

The Woolsey Fire broke out about 2:25 p.m. Thursday, pushed by strong Santa Ana winds which prevented fire commanders from ordering aerial assaults in the early morning hours.

Almost 800 kilometres to the south, a second blaze forced the evacuation of the upscale oceanside city of Malibu and threatened the beleaguered town of Thousand Oaks, where a gunman killed 12 people this week in a rampage in a bar and dance hall.

A Southern California wildfire continues to burn homes as it runs toward the sea.

Meteorologists marvelled at the "gut-wrenching" rate of spread Thursday's fires exhibited.

A combination of profoundly dry vegetation and heavy winds are contributing to the fire's explosive pattern.

Another 35 people had been reported missing and three firefighters had been injured.

Residents described fleeing their homes and then getting stuck on gridlocked roads as flames approached, sparking explosions and toppling utility poles. That affects all residents north of the 101 Freeway, south of Bell Canyon Road, west of Valley Circle Boulevard and east of the Los Angeles city limit.

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The actor said his "nervous" daughter Willow, 18, asked him to go and have a look outside as the Woolsey wildfire, which is now 14,000 acres and being fed by strong winds and dry conditions, creeps closer to their home.

The victims died in their vehicles trying to escape a massive late-season inferno in the northern California town of Paradise, where the entire population of 26,000 was ordered to leave, officials said. The Hill Fire caused an evacuation of Cal State University-Channel Islands and about 1,000 homes.

Celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Mark Hammil and Lady Gaga posted in social media posts they had been forced to flee their homes.

"Fire is burning out of control, heading into populated areas of Malibu".

"It is critical that residents pay close attention to evacuation orders", the Los Angeles County Fire Department said on Twitter.

"I was frantic", she said. There were reports of people abandoning their vehicles trapped in heavy traffic, clutching children and running for safety under blackened skies.

These are firestorms - towering, fast-moving walls of flames hundreds of feet high - the kind of fires that are not only uncontrolled by firefighters, but uncontrollable.

"There was really no firefight involved", said Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, explaining that crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people get out alive.

Overnight, the so-called Woolsey Fire reached the city of Agoura Hills and raced through Oak Park, in the adjacent Ventura County.