Three wildfires ring Los Angeles

California wildfires wreak havoc

Aerial footage of fires across northern Los Angeles

Three separate wildfires in southern California have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to flee the fast-moving flames.

The fires, to the north, north-west and south of Los Angeles have burnt through dry brush and forest in the suburban canyonlands around the city.

California’s governor has declared states of emergency in Orange, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties.

A drop in the wind force has given some relief to the hard-pressed fire crews.

The largest of the fires is in the northern Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar, up against the canyons of the Angeles National Forest.

See map of the California fires

Ten-thousand people were ordered to evacuate their homes as the flames raced through the Oakridge Mobile Home Park late on Friday, destroying about 500 of the structures.

Firefighters were braving 50ft flame lengths as they swept across the mobile homes
Los Angeles Fire Captain Steve Ruda
In pictures: Los Angeles wildfire

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

He blamed the spread of the fire on “absolutely atrocious” winds of up to 80 mph (130 km/h) that pushed the fire out of the forests and into the suburbs, jumping wide highways in the process.

“It was an absolute firestorm,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Steve Ruda of the Oakridge blaze.

“Firefighters were braving 50ft flame lengths as they swept across the mobile homes,” he told the Reuters news agency, adding that heat from the flames had melted his firefighters’ hoses to the road.

The Sylmar fire has burnt through 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) since it broke out late on Friday. Fire officials said it was 20% contained as of late Saturday.

About 2,000 firefighters are using aircraft, helicopters and bulldozers to beat the flames back from populated areas.

Pillars of smoke

Meanwhile, more than 12,000 people were ordered to leave their homes in Orange County, in the south of the Los Angeles urban sprawl, as another fire flared up early on Saturday in the communities of Yorba Linda and Corona.

That fire has so far scorched 2,000 acres (800 hectares) and damaged or destroyed about 100 homes or other buildings.

Fire officials said the blaze was 5% contained.

The two fires have sent pillars of smoke into the air that can be seen across the Los Angeles area.

Television pictures showed entire hillsides ablaze and burning embers flying through the air, pushed by the high winds.

“When you walk around the areas that were devastated, it looked like hell today,” Gov Schwarzenegger told a news conference on Saturday.

California fires ’emergency’

At least 11 injuries have been reported in the two Los Angeles fires, including nine firefighters.

No deaths have so far been reported, although Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said he feared bodies might be found at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park.

Mr Bratton said rescue crews would have to wait for the ground to cool before bringing in search dogs to find any victims.

A fire burning since Thursday in Santa Barbara, on the Pacific coast about 90 miles (144km) north-west of Los Angeles, has been 40% contained, firefighters said.

Santa Barbara County spokesman William Boyer said 106 homes had been burnt in the city of Santa Barbara and another 77 in the adjacent community of Montecito – home to many wealthy celebrities.

Multi-million dollar homes have been turned into smouldering piles of rubble surrounded by a grey, ash-coated landscape in the secluded area that is home to celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Michael Douglas.

Mr Boyer said about 1,500 acres of land had been scorched. At least 13 people have been treated for burns or smoke inhalation.

Calmer winds on Sunday have given some relief to fire crews in all three areas. Wind speeds of about 25-45 mph (40-72 km/h) were reported.

Such wildfires are an annual feature in southern California, but many officials say this year’s have been the worst in decades.

Page last updated at 17:50 GMT, Sunday, 16 November 2008

Source: BBC News

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