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Hundreds evacuated as northern California wildfires rage

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[September 15, 2014]  By Victoria Cavaliere
 (Reuters) - Hundreds of residents were forced to flee their homes on Sunday as wildfires raged through parts of drought-plagued northern California, officials said.

Roughly 1,000 Madera County residents were ordered to evacuate as one blaze, dubbed the Courtney Fire, charred some 320 acres (129.5 hectares), California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CalFire) said.

A total of 400 firefighters were called in to battle the flames, which had destroyed at least 10 buildings and was being fueled by drought conditions in the area roughly 150 miles (241.4 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco, CalFire said. It was not at all contained as of Sunday evening.

Further north, about 800 firefighters were working to battle a 2,500-acre (1,011.7-hectare) blaze called the King Fire, raging in El Dorado County.

Nearly 250 homes in the area were under a mandatory evacuation order, while residents of another 400 houses were advised that they could voluntarily leave, the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office said.

CalFire reported one injury associated with the fire, but further details were not immediately available. As of Sunday evening, the fire was 10 percent contained though it was spreading rapidly, CalFire said.

Authorities in southeast of Los Angeles lifted an evacuation order on Sunday evening as firefighters made headway in containing a wildfire that forced hundreds of people to flee their homes as it swept through drought-stricken woods.

More than 1,000 firefighters backed by nine helicopters worked around the clock to contain the Silverado Fire, which broke out Friday morning in the Cleveland National Forest and spread rapidly on Saturday due to a heat wave in the state.

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A mandatory evacuation order affecting some 217 homes in and around Silverado Canyon, a gorge in the Santa Ana Mountains, had been lifted on Sunday evening, though the area remained closed to non-residents, the Orange Country Sheriff's Department said.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries, and the blaze had so far left 1,600 acres (647 hectares) charred.

California is in its third year of a devastating drought, leaving bone-dry brush and chaparral that is feeding the wildfire.

"It has been well over 100 degrees here. It's very strenuous work," said Wilkins.

This year's wildfire season, which typically runs from May until October, was on track to be the most destructive on record, according to CalFire.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle and Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Simon Cameron-Moore and Matt Driskill)

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