LOS ANGELES – Thousands of homes remained evacuated Sunday as two massive wildfires raged in tinder-dry California hills and canyons, and authorities said a burned body was found in one neighborhood swept by the flames.
Firefighters have been working a fire up and down ridgelines since Friday that has blackened 31-square miles of brush on the edge of Santa Clarita and the Angeles National Forest. About 300 miles up the coast, crews were battling another blaze across 10-square miles north of the majestic Big Sur region.
The body of a man was discovered inside a burned sedan Saturday evening outside a home in Santa Clarita, just north of Los Angeles. There was no evidence the death was crime-related, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Sunday as the investigation continued.
The area was among those ordered evacuated as the fire raged through brush withered by days of 100-degree temperatures as Southern California sweltered through a heat wave.
After flames driven by gusty winds swept through an evacuated neighborhood, firefighters reported that some buildings had been engulfed, but it was not immediately clear whether they were homes, outbuildings or garages, said Nathan Judy, a spokesman for the U.S. Fire Service.
The area was still unsafe, he said late Saturday night.
"You've still got hotspots in that area, a lot of smoldering stuff," and trees that might fall because their roots had burned, Judy said.
More than 900 firefighters and water-dropping helicopters battled the flames overnight on several fronts.
"It's not a one-direction type of fire," Judy said. "It's going in different directions depending on which way the wind is blowing. It's doing what it wants."
Despite firefighters' efforts, the blaze destroyed sets at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita, which has Old West-style buildings used for movie locations.
"It was a horrific firestorm," owner Derek Hunt told KABC-TV. "At some point, you know you're defeated and you have to step back and save what you can. We fought as best as we could."
Smoke and ash from the fire cast a pall over neighboring Los Angeles. Air quality officials advised people with respiratory problems to stay indoors.
Bengal tigers and a mountain lion were among several hundred animals evacuated Saturday as flames partially ringed the Wildlife Waystation, a nonprofit sanctuary for rescued exotic creatures in Sylmar. Volunteers showed up with trucks and trailers to help with the rescue. Later in the day, firefighters managed to beat back the threat.
More than 200 horses along with goats, rabbits and other animals also were removed from fire areas.
Sunday's forecast called for low humidity with afternoon and evening winds gusting to 25 mph or more that could once again fan the fires' explosive growth.
Up the coast, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighters battled the blaze in rugged mountains north of Big Sur. The fire 5 miles south of Garrapata State Park posed a threat to about 1,000 homes and the community of Palo Colorado was ordered evacuated, Cal Fire said.
Jerri Masten-Hansen said she and her husband watched the fire creep in toward them. "We felt threatened this morning and decided we needed to go," Masten-Hansen told KSBW-TV.
Her sister also left her home down the road. "I grabbed all the pictures of the kids, and then I took the paintings of my parents that had been done by a local artist," Ellen Masten said.