Wildfires rage in California, stoked by extreme heat in U.S. West

(Reuters) – Three large wildfires burned in California and a fourth was growing quickly on Monday as a weekend heat wave lingered across large swaths of the western United States.

The Creek Fire, which has engulfed the Fresno area in central California and caused the emergency evacuation over the weekend of more than 200 people vacationing at a popular reservoir, was still not contained as of Monday afternoon, fire officials said.

The blaze, growing under “extreme weather conditions,” had devoured nearly 79,000 acres (32,000 hectares) of land, while a cause remained under investigation, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said in a statement.

Officials in Madera County issued evacuation orders and urged the county’s 157,000 residents to leave if they felt unsafe.

A hiker who had just embarked on a multi-day trip when the Creek Fire broke out and had to find a way out of the blaze shared the harrowing experience on social media.

“We’re safe and we’re out, but wow, we hiked our way out of the #CreekFire yesterday,” Asha Karim posted on Twitter.

The Oak Fire in Mendocino County started burning around 1:26 pm on Monday afternoon, according to CalFire, and three hours later it had already torched 1,000 acres (400 hectares) and destroyed one structure.

Videos on social media showed the fire consuming pick-up trucks as it spread along Highway 101 near Willits, California.

“If you’re trying to get out of an evacuation area please call 911 for help. Don’t delay!” the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter.

San Francisco-based power provider PG&E said late on Monday that it began turning off power in “high fire-threat” areas. The outages will impact 172,000 customers in 22 counties, mostly in the Sierra Foothills, PG&E said, adding the shut off was a safety measure due to the extreme high and dry winds.

The California Independent Systems Operator, which runs most of the state’s power grid, again urged consumers to cut back on energy consumption and said it was monitoring wildfires throughout the state threatening power lines.

In Southern California, east of San Diego, more than 400 firefighters battled the Valley Fire, which burned more than 17,000 acres (6,900 hectares)in Cleveland National Forest. Video shared on social media showed firefighters dousing the flames, the air thick with ash and fire embers.

The blaze was 3% contained on Monday evening. Officials announced the deployment of military aircraft on Monday afternoon to help fight the flames.

A fire in San Bernardino County, southeast of Los Angeles, that officials said was caused by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party, kept burning through the night and was 7% contained as of Monday morning.

On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego counties due to the wildfires, which also prompted the U.S. Forest Service to temporarily close some national forests including the Sierra National Forest, the Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Leslie Adler, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

Accused gunman in Fresno shooting spree charged in motel murder

A road is blocked by police tape after a multiple victim shooting incident in downtown Fresno, California, U.S. April 18, 2017. Fresno County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – A suspect nicknamed Black Jesus who police say killed three white men during a racially motivated shooting spree in downtown Fresno, California, was charged on Thursday with the murder of an unarmed Motel 6 security guard days earlier.

Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was also charged by Fresno County prosecutors with the attempted murder of a second security guard at the motel on April 13, five days before the shooting rampage.

A spokeswoman for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office said Muhammad would be charged in connection with the fatal gun spree after police investigators submit final reports in the case.

Police have said Muhammad was bent on killing as many white men as possible when he gunned down the three men in downtown Fresno and fired at another, who was missed by the bullets.

Although Muhammad shouted: “Allu Akhbar” as he was taken into custody, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer has said the case did not appear to be an act of terrorism.

“Kori Muhammad is not a terrorist, but he is a racist, and he is filled with hate, and he set out this week to kill as many people as he could,” Dyer told reporters on Wednesday.

Dyer said at the news conference that Muhammad, who went by the nickname Black Jesus, opened fire in the parking lot of a Fresno-area Motel 6 because he felt disrespected after being asked to move out. Security guard Carl Williams was slain.

On Tuesday morning, he logged onto the internet at a Starbucks coffee shop and learned that police had identified him as the assailant in that crime.

“What he told our detectives last night was that once he saw he was wanted for murder, he was not going to go down for shooting a security guard for disrespecting him, but that he was going to kill as many white males as possible,” Dyer said.

Police say Muhammad opened fire 17 times at about 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday as he walked and ran along several blocks in Fresno, killing the three men in less than four minutes.

Fresno is an agricultural hub in California’s central valley, about 170 miles (275 km) southeast of San Francisco.

Muhammad faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted of the two charges filed against him on Thursday. He was expected to make an initial court appearance as early as Friday morning.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Three killed in Fresno, California, shooting spree, suspect arrested

A road is blocked by police tape after a multiple victim shooting incident in downtown Fresno, California, U.S. April 18, 2017. Fresno County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – A gunman with an apparent dislike of white people and government killed three people in downtown Fresno, California, on Tuesday, before he was taken into custody while shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” police said.

The suspect, identified as 39-year-old Kori Ali Muhammad, was also wanted in connection with the fatal shooting last week of an unarmed security guard at a Motel 6 in Fresno, Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters at a press conference.

Dyer said Muhammad fired at least 16 rounds in less than a minute at four downtown Fresno locations at about 10:45 a.m. local time before he was spotted running through the streets by a police officer.

“Immediately upon the individual seeing the officer he literally dove onto the ground and was taken into custody and as he was taken into custody he yelled out ‘Allahu Akhbar,'” Dyer said. The term means “God is great” in Arabic.

“He does not like white people,” Dyer said, citing the black suspect’s statements after being arrested and his Facebook postings. At least two of his victims were white.

Dyer said his department had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the incident.

The Fresno Bee newspaper reported that the gunman opened fire with a large-caliber handgun while cursing shortly before 11 a.m. near a Catholic Charities building.

Fresno is an agricultural hub in California’s central valley, about 170 miles southeast of San Francisco.

County government buildings were placed on lockdown and residents were urged to shelter in place, according to the newspaper.

Local television images showed what appeared to be a body covered in a yellow tarp in a street near where police tape marked off several crime scenes.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman; Editing by Richard Chang)