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At least two dead in California wildfires

At least two people have died in a wildfire that ripped through a Northern California town, with about 1000 people in the rural community still being kept from their homes.

Authorities on Sunday confirmed two deaths in the fire that burned buildings in the town of Weed, but did not provide names or other details of the victims.

The blaze started on Friday and forced thousands of people from the area.

Firefighters on Sunday worked to contain the blaze that had sparked out of control at the start of the holiday weekend.

Power outages, smoky skies and uncertainty about what the day would bring left a feeling of emptiness around the town the morning after evacuation orders were lifted for thousands of other residents.

Crews kept the flames, known as the Mill Fire, from growing overnight. As of Sunday morning, it covered about 17 square kilometres and was 25 per cent contained, numbers unchanged since Saturday night, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s morning report.

Three people were injured, according to Cal Fire, but no other details were available.

Nearby, crews battled another blaze known as the Mountain Fire, which also sparked on Friday, though in a less populated area. More than 300 people were under evacuation orders.

Weed, home to fewer than 3000 people about 450 kilometres northeast of San Francisco, has long been seen by passersby as a whimsical spot to stop along Interstate 5. But the town, nestled in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, is no stranger to wildfires.

Drought persists as California heads into what traditionally is the worst of the fire season. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Crews battled flames while much of the state baked in a Labor Day weekend heat wave, with temperatures expected to top 38C in Los Angeles, exceptionally warm weather for Southern California.

Temperatures were expected to be even hotter through the Central Valley up to the capital of Sacramento.

The California Independent System Operator issued its fifth “flex alert,” a plea for people to use their air conditioners and other appliances sparingly from 4 to 9pm to protect the power grid.

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