A former Auckland man has spoken of being evacuated from his California home as wildfires rage through the US state.
At least five people are thought to have been killed after two fires broke out on Thursday northwest of Los Angeles and roared rapidly southward.
The flames are being driven by Southern California's notorious Santa Ana winds, which blow from the northeast toward the coast.
A state of emergency has been declared for the fire-stricken area and a mandatory evacuation order for the entire beachside city of Malibu was triggered.
Malibu has about 13,000 residents and lies along 21 miles (34 kilometers) of coast at the southern foot of the mountain range.
Gwithyen Thomas, a chef originally from Auckland, has lived in Westlake Village near Malibu with wife Justine and their young child for six years.
He says his home and restaurant - called Aroha - were evacuated last night about 7pm local time.
"I just grabbed family photos, my mum's ashes, and got in the car and took the family somewhere safe," Thomas said.
"You really don't have much of an option.
"You've just gotta go."
Thomas said the situation was "pretty horrendous".
"All of our neighbours and customers have been evacuated as well," he said.
"One of my regulars' houses has been burnt down."
He said he had been back to New Zealand recently and never imagined the fires would happen.
"It's all a bit different," he said.
"We don't really experience these things in Auckland.
"I was in Auckland for the last two weeks and I've gotten back from pouring rain, to this."
He posted a photograph of the fire on his Facebook page.
"We are all safe. But it's really close to where we live and where the restaurant," he said.
This morning a Northern California sheriff said authorities were still trying to confirm reports that more than five people died when a wildfire devastated the town of Paradise north of Los Angeles.
Five people were found dead in vehicles Friday but Butte County Sheriff Korey Honea told television stations KHSL/KNVN that additional reports of deaths are being investigated.
Honea said flames and downed power lines in Paradise are preventing deputies from reaching some areas.
The five victims were found in vehicles in the same area of the town, where residents described traffic jams and panic as they tried to escape flames on Thursday.
Thousands of buildings were destroyed in Paradise, about 180 miles (289 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.
Tens of thousands of people fled the fast-moving wildfire some clutching babies and pets as they abandoned vehicles and struck out on foot ahead of the flames that destroyed hundreds of structures.
"Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed, it's that kind of devastation," said Cal Fire Capt. Scott McLean.
"The wind that was predicted came and just wiped it out."