Thousands evacuated ahead of fast-moving California wildfire

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Firefighters battle a fast-moving wildfire that destroyed homes driven by strong wind and high temperatures forcing thousands of residents to evacuate in Goleta, California, US, early July 7, 2018. (REUTERS)
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In this June 24, 2018 file photo, an air tanker drops retardant on a wildfire burning above the Spring Lakes community near Clearlake Oaks, Calif. (AP)
Updated 08 July 2018
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Thousands evacuated ahead of fast-moving California wildfire

LOS ANGELES: Santa Barbara County officials declared a local emergency on Saturday as a fast-moving wildfire driven by strong winds and triple-digit temperatures destroyed 20 homes and other structures and forced thousands of residents to evacuate.
The Holiday Fire, one of more than three dozen major blazes burning across the US West, broke out on Friday evening near the beach community of Goleta, California, South of Santa Barbara, and raced through the seaside foothills.
The flames forced more than 2,000 people to flee their homes, and left thousands more without power, prompting the emergency declaration which frees additional funds for the firefighting effort.
Some 350 firefighters took advantage of a period of light winds early on Saturday to contain as much as possible of the blaze, which has burned through 50 to 80 acres (20 to 32 hectares), fire officials said.
“It was a small fire but it had a powerful punch to it,” Santa County Fire spokesman Mike Eliason said. “We’re going to hit it hard today.”
Winds were expected to pick up again as temperatures rise in the afternoon, he said.
Dozens of blazes have broken out across the western United States, fanned by scorching heat, winds and low humidity in a particularly intense fire season.
This year’s fires had burned more than 2.9 million acres (1.17 million hectares) through Friday, already more than the annual average of about 2.4 million acres (971,000 hectares) over the last 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
On Friday, the remains of an unidentified person were found near a home burned to the ground by the Klamathon fire, which broke out on Thursday near California’s border with Oregon. It marked the first fatality of the fire season in California.
The Klamathon, which has destroyed 15 structures and blackened nearly 22,000 acres (8,900 hectares), was only 5 percent contained as of Saturday.
Elsewhere in Northern California, the County Fire has charred 88,375 acres (35,764 hectares) in sparsely populated wooded areas of Napa and Yolo Counties.
Some 3,660 firefighters faced with inaccessible terrain, high temperatures and low humidity, were battling the fire, which was only 48 percent contained. It has destroyed 10 structures, damaged two and threatened 110.
In Colorado, officials said fire crews had made “much progress” battling the Spring Creek fire, which broke out on June 27 and has consumed 106,985 acres (43,295 hectares). It was 43 percent contained on Saturday, the officials said.


Kashmiri students flee Indian backlash after suicide attack

Updated 17 min 51 sec ago
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Kashmiri students flee Indian backlash after suicide attack

  • The crowds shouted “traitors” and “terrorists” at the Kashmiri students’ apartments and hostels
  • More than 500 students and 100 businessmen fled back to Kashmir because of the increasing tension

SRINAGAR, India: Junaid Ayub Rather cowered alongside 30 other students in a small room for two nights while mobs chanted for their blood outside, before finally escaping the rage sweeping India after last week’s suicide bombing in Kashmir.
Similar scenes have played out across the nation as Kashmiris living away from home flee violent reprisals following the latest attack in the restive Himalayan region, which killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers.
Rather said angry crowds gathered outside hostels and apartments rented by Kashmiri students in Dehradun, north of New Delhi, shouting for the “traitors” and “terrorists” hiding inside to be shot.
“It took us four days to reach home in Kashmir with some help from police and a Muslim businessman,” Rather, who had lived in the northern city for two years, told AFP after reaching his home south of Srinagar.
“Thirty of us slept in one room for two nights before we could mobilize help to flee.”
The businessman let them take refuge in his home until buses could be organized to get them to safety.
Around 11,000 Kashmiri students enroll at Indian universities outside their home state each year.
Many are now clamoring to return home to a region battle-scarred by 30 years of civil war, fearing violent attacks if they stay.
Video footage of Kashmiris being beaten and taunted in Indian cities has been widely shared on social media, while rightwing Hindu groups and pundits on TV news channels have encouraged reprisals.
A professor from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University this week publicly called for the execution of 40 Kashmiris to avenge the suicide bombing, while two other colleges announced they would no longer accept students from the territory.
More than 500 students, along with 100 businessmen, have already arrived back in Kashmir to flee a “climate of fear and intimidation across India,” said Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation chief Mohammad Yasin Khan.
More were on their way, he told AFP.
“We are continuously receiving distress calls from all kinds of people asking for help,” Khan said.
Some Kashmiri students have also been suspended by Indian universities for allegedly posting insensitive comments on social media about the suicide attack, while others have been arrested on sedition charges.
India’s interior ministry has ordered state governments to protect Kashmiri students — but several political leaders have also stoked aggressive anti-Kashmir sentiment since the bombing.
“Don’t visit Kashmir ... Boycott everything Kashmiri,” Meghalaya state governor Tathagata Roy wrote on Twitter.
More than 500,000 Indian troops are stationed in Kashmir, a territory administered by New Delhi but also claimed by neighboring Pakistan.
The two countries have battled three wars for control of the region, while an assortment of local insurgent groups have fought for a merger with Pakistan or outright independence.
Last week’s suicide attack was claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group, based in Pakistan.
India has long accused Islamabad of giving official backing to Kashmiri rebel groups.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces an election in the coming months and is under pressure to take a tough stand on militants, has promised those responsible for the bombing “will pay a heavy price.”
His Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan promised retaliation against any Indian attack on his country’s soil.