Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Thousands flee California wildfires

SOUTHERN INFERNOMore than 5,000 mobile homes were destroyed, tens of thousands of people evacuated and 3,200 hectares of land burned by the raging blaze

AFP , LOS ANGELES

Firefighters protect houses on Saturday in Yorba Linda, California.

PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of residents forced to flee as a series of ferocious wind-driven wildfires raged across Southern California yesterday, virtually circling the city of Los Angeles.

More than 500 mobile homes were gutted and 10,000 people were evacuated by a blaze that ripped through a Los Angeles suburb in what officials said was one of the worst fires to ravage the city in nearly half a century.

The fire, which erupted late on Friday in the densely populated district of Sylmar, came as firefighters continued to battle a blaze in the celebrity enclave of Montecito, 160km to the north.

Fires also broke out in the cities of Yorba Linda and Corona, southeast of Los Angeles, reportedly destroying at least 20 homes and forcing the closure of several important transport routes.

More than 20,000 people were ordered to evacuate the Orange County burn area, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Los Angeles fire — fueled by seasonal winds of up to 130kph — erupted late on Friday and has scorched some 3,200 hectares.

Ground zero of the firestorm was a mobile home park near Sylmar where more than 500 residences were reduced to a smoldering wasteland.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, blaming the spread of the fire on “absolutely atrocious” winds, said the blaze was one of the worst in the city’s history.

“We have never lost in recent times anything close to this number [of homes],” Villaraigosa said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the fire, which was 20 percent contained by 8pm on Saturday, was the worst since a 1961 blaze in wealthy Bel Air that destroyed more than 480 homes.

“This is as bad a fire as I can remember since the 1961 fire,” Yaroslavsky said. “The explosiveness of it, and the human devastation that is involved ... Five hundred families lost their home last night and this morning. And our hearts go out to them. We just can’t weigh their loss heavily enough.”

Los Angeles Police Department chief William Bratton described the devastation as “absolutely incredible.”

“Words cannot describe it,” Bratton told KCAL 9 television. “This is a very established, residential, middle-class community and the idea that 500 of these families are now without a home is incredible.”

About 2,000 firefighters, using helicopters, bulldozers and engines, were attempting to halt its advance as a state of emergency was declared across Los Angeles County.

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