LOS ANGELES — An intentionally set wildfire grew perilously close to homes in Southern California on Thursday as evacuation orders expanded to more than 20,000 residents, though some homeowners stayed behind to fend off the flames themselves.

Firefighters fought a desperate battle to stop the Holy Fire from reaching homes as the blaze surged through the Cleveland National Forest above the city of Lake Elsinore and its surrounding communities. They were trying to keep the flames from devouring neighborhoods and taking lives, as gigantic fires still burning in Northern California have done.

“Our main focus this afternoon was getting everyone out safely,” said Thanh Nguyen, a spokesman for the crews battling the Holy Fire.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange and Riverside counties because the fire threatened thousands of homes. The proclamation directs state agencies to provide help to local governments.

As flames raged closer, some residents ignoring evacuation orders stood in driveways or on top of roofs and used garden hoses to keep their homes wet and to fight the flames as smoke billowed around them. AP

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