Firefighters struggle to contain blaze in southern California

Flames flare behind firefighters and fire trucks at the Apple Fire in Cherry Valley on Aug 1. (AP pic)

LOS ANGELES: More than 1,300 firefighters were battling a blaze that was burning out of control Sunday in southern California, threatening thousands of people and homes east of Los Angeles.

The so-called Apple Fire that broke out Friday near the city of San Bernardino has so far charred more than 8,000 hectares, sending up columns of smoke visible from far away.

It was so smoky that authorities declared an air quality alert Saturday evening.

At least 2,600 homes and nearly 7,800 people were evacuated.

Officials said it was not clear when they might be able to come back.

Just before midday, more than 1,360 firefighters backed by helicopters, water-dumping planes and trucks were working to put out the fire.

Crews managed to contain 5% of the fire by Sunday evening, after losing control of the blaze during the afternoon.

There were no reports of casualties, and the only damage so far has been to two buildings and one home.

The edges of the fire are burning on rugged hills hard for crews to reach, authorities said.

Dense vegetation fuelled fire burning near homes, said Fernando Herrera, fire chief in Riverside County, while hot and dry conditions Sunday will help the fire keep alive.

Officials said blaze may have been set deliberately and a probe into what caused the fire is underway.