Fires raging in forests and woodlands across California have taken the life of a firefighter, left two dozen homes in charred ruins and forced thousands of people to flee. The Rocky Fire in Lake County north of San Francisco is the fiercest of 20 large fires being battled by 9,000 firefighters across the state, officials said. The fire broke out on Wednesday (29 July) and is only 5% contained.

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A house in Lower Lake is consumed by the Rocky FireJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
rocky fire california
Firefighters watch the Rocky Fire advance in Lake County, CaliforniaMax Whittaker/Reuters
rocky fire california
Firefighter Joe Darr douses flames along Highway 20 near ClearlakeJosh Edelson/AFP
rocky fire california
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rocky fire california
Cal Fire firefighters stand on their fire engines as they watch a large plume of smoke rising from the Rocky Fire near ClearlakeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

Daniel Berlant, an information officer with Cal Fire (The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) said drought conditions had led to the rapid spread. "The fire grew 20,000 acres in a five-hour period. That is an unbelievable amount of acreage burned in such a short amount of time. But again, it's because of these drought conditions that are allowing fires like that one and all the other that we're responding to grow so quickly," he said.

Firefighters battled through thick smoke and flying embers to turn loose horses, goats and other livestock as their owners fled to safety.

rocky fire california
Goats run away from their pen after firefighters freed them as the Rocky Fire approaches Lower LakeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
rocky fire california
Cal Fire firefighter Johnny Miller and division chief Nick Schuler move chickens as the Rocky Fire approaches Lower LakeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
rocky fire california
An air tanker drops fire retardant along a ridge to help contain the Rocky fire near ClearlakeJosh Edelson/AFP
rocky fire california
Wayne Fischer describes what his home near Clearlake used to look like before it was burned to the ground by the Rocky fireJosh Edelson/AFP
rocky fire california
Josh Edelson/AFP

Among the fires burning in the state is the Frog Fire, which killed a firefighter on Thursday (30 July). David Ruhl, 38, a married father of two from Rapid City, South Dakota, died while assigned to the fire in the Modoc National Forest near California's border with Oregon. Ruhl was in a vehicle, looking for ways to fight the blaze, when officials lost contact with him, fire information officer Ken Sandusky said. His body was recovered the following day.

A woman was arrested in connection with a small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travellers headed to Yosemite National Park. Lisa Ann Vilmur was arrested on allegations of recklessly causing a fire. She was jailed on $100,000 bail. Another wildfire caused the evacuation of 200 homes in the central California community of Cascadel Woods. Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire near Bass Lake by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles.

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The Rocky Fire burns through a fence line in Lake County, CaliforniaMax Whittaker/Reuters
rocky fire california
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rocky fire california
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rocky fire california
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rocky fire california
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rocky fire california
Oceanside Fire Department captain Greg DeAvila shoots a flare into dry brush during a burn operation to head off the Rocky Fire near ClearlakeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
rocky fire california
Firefighters prepare to use a flare to start a backfire near ClearlakeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
rocky fire california
Cal Fire firefighters battle the Rocky Fire near ClearlakeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
rocky fire california
A firefighting air tanker flies in front of the setting sun while battling the Rocky Fire near Clearlake, CaliforniaJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Heat marks are visible on an air-conditioning unit at a home in Lower Lake that was destroyed by the Rocky FireJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
rocky fire california
Cal Fire firefighters monitor a backfire near ClearlakeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

The fires prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for California and activate the California National Guard to help with disaster recovery.