Alex Schenck, 15, throws flaming pallets while fighting to save his home as the Ranch Fire threatens the town of Clearlake Oaks in northern California. -AFP
Thousands of firefighters battled relentless flames ripping across California on Wednesday, as the death toll from a series of infernos that erupted last month hit 11.
The raging Mendocino Complex fire comprising twin blazes in the state's north has now ravaged almost 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) -- approximately the size of sprawling Los Angeles -- in less than two weeks, becoming California's largest wildfire since record-keeping began a century ago.
Some 14,000 firefighters, including reinforcements from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, are combating the firestorm which remains just 34 percent contained.
The River Fire of the Mendocino Complex is 78 percent contained, having burned 48,920 acres. But its partner blaze the Ranch Fire has grown to 243,772 acres and is just 20 percent contained. "Still a lot of work to do," said Charlie Blankenheim, a chief of fire fighting operations. "But we have got a plan for all of it, we think that in a day or two we are going to have some success and start to wrap this up."
Limited access, heavy fuel loads, low fuel moisture and high temperatures were all impeding firefighters' efforts to rein in the conflagration, the state's CalFire authority said.
Overall, the Mendocino Complex fire has destroyed at least 143 structures, 75 of them residences. More than 11,000 other structures are threatened, according to CalFire.
The Ranch fire, which poses the biggest challenge, has swept across natural barriers like rivers, and a ditch dug with earth-moving machinery. Helicopters and airplanes, including two massive DC-10s and a 747 jumbo jet, were supporting firefighters by dousing the flames with water.
Two people have died in that inferno alone, taking to 11 the number of people killed by major fires that are becoming something of a constant in the state.
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