Firefighters battle to curb arson wildfire in California before winds return

Aircraft turned hillsides red with retardant as homeowners wet their houses with garden hoses in a battle to contain an arson wildfire, which prompted evacuation orders for more than 20,000 people south of Los Angeles.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Thursday night local time for Orange and Riverside counties as a four-day-old fire carved its way along ridges and hillsides of the Cleveland National Forest.

Brown's proclamation said thousands of homes were threatened by the fire in the foothills above Lake Elsinore and nearby communities and ordered state agencies to help local governments.

Firefighters planned to work through the night to gain ground against the blaze before the expected Friday afternoon return of blustery winds that might drive the flames to new ferocity.

A resident of Holy Jim Canyon in the forest was scheduled for a court hearing Friday on charges that he deliberately set the fire.

Forrest Clark, 51, is charged with arson and other crimes and could face life in prison if convicted. 

As flames raged closer to foothill homes on Thursday, some residents ignoring evacuation orders stood in driveways or on top of roofs and used garden hoses to wet down their property as smoke billowed around them.

Firefighters fought a desperate battle as huge flames came within yards of some homes, feeding on dense, dry chaparral and propelled by 30-kph gusts. They want to encircle the fire before it can devour neighbourhoods and take lives, as gigantic fires still burning in Northern California have done.

Although the fire - named for the canyon where it started - destroyed a dozen cabins after breaking out Monday, fire crews were able to prevent further losses but the fire was still virtually uncontrolled as its growth nullified progress in corralling it.

Wind speeds and temperatures dropped as night fell but gusty winds could pick up again Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service warned.

Meanwhile, two major wildfires - one called the Mendocino Complex Fire that is the largest in California history - were burning more than 160 kilometres north of Sacramento.

Crews turned a corner and achieved 51 per cent containment of the Mendocino Complex - actually twin fires that are being fought together. 

The fire destroyed more than 100 homes and has blackened an area about the size of the city of Los Angeles.

In the Redding area, the year's deadliest fire was nearly half surrounded and was burning into remote and rugged forest land but grass, brush and trees there are so dry from years of drought and recent heat that the potential remained for the fire to grow, state fire officials said.

The Carr Fire, as it's called, killed six people, including two firefighters, and burned more than 1,000 homes. Two other people - a state fire heavy equipment mechanic assigned to the fire and a utility worker trying to restore power near the fire- have died in car accidents.

The fires all grew explosively in the past two weeks as winds whipped the flames through forest and rural areas full of timber and brush that is bone-dry from years of drought and a summer of record-breaking heat.

Air quality has been another casualty of the fires. A smoky haze stretches from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to Sacramento and hovers over the San Francisco Bay Area, with most major population centers in between suffering air quality that's considered dangerous for children, the elderly and people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

The smoke even drifted as far east as Salt Lake City in Utah.

The sheer size of the fires is numbing in a state that is still reeling from enormous blazes last year and has yet to hit its historically most dangerous months.

Firefighters had almost contained a huge fire near Yosemite National Park.

New Zealanders and Australians are tackling a monster blaze in Mendocino, north of San Francisco. Source: 1 NEWS

Aussie mum admits child abuse took place at her swingers parties

The mother at the centre of a police investigation into "swinging" sex parties that allegedly involved the sexual abuse of children has pleaded guilty to some of her charges.

The 39-year-old woman, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty in Perth Magistrates Court on Friday to 17 offences including sexual penetration of a child, indecently dealing with a child and indecently recording a child.

She will next appear in the West Australian District Court on September 14.

The woman still has 93 other charges pending and will return to Perth Magistrates Court on November 13.

Five people have been charged under Taskforce Mirzam, which was launched in February following the discovery of a recording device that allegedly contained videos of men and women engaging in sex acts with the woman's daughter.

Source: Breakfast


Pacific Update with Barbara Dreaver: Church-loving nana goes viral, shocking PNG police beating causes condemnation

In the latest edition of Pacific Update with Barbara Dreaver, 1 NEWS' Pacific correspondent wraps up the week's news from around the region.

Among the stories in this week's edition is a church-loving nana who has gone viral, and a shocking incident of alleged police brutality in Papua New Guinea.

Dreaver also discusses the arrest of a nurse in Samoa, following the deaths of two one-year-olds after they received the MMR vaccination.

And a warning, some may find some of the images in this report upsetting. 

1 NEWS' Pacific Correspondent gives a round-up of news in the region. Source: 1 NEWS