- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008


More residents of Southern California were urged to leave their homes Sunday despite calming winds that allowed a major aerial attack on wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes and blanketed the region in smoke.

Fires burned in Los Angeles County, to the east in Riverside and Orange counties, and to the northwest in Santa Barbara County. More than 800 houses, mobile homes and apartments were destroyed by fires that have burned areas of more than 34 square miles since breaking out Thursday.

No deaths have been reported, but police brought in trained dogs Sunday morning to search the rubble of a mobile-home park where nearly 500 homes were destroyed. They didn’t find any bodies after searching about a third of the homes.

“This has been a very tough few days for the people of Southern California,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said after touring that damage.

The smell of smoke pervaded metropolitan Los Angeles. Downtown skyscrapers were silhouettes in an opaque sky, and concerns about air quality forced organizers to cancel a marathon in suburban Pasadena where 8,000 runners had planned to participate.

Fierce Santa Ana winds that fanned the fires on Saturday weakened Sunday morning, allowing firefighters to set backfires to prevent flames from advancing to hillside neighborhoods. Air tankers swooped low over suburbs, red fire retardant billowing from their bellies as they painted defensive lines between brushlands and homes. Big helicopters shuttled back and forth on water drops.

The most threatening blaze had scorched more than 16 square miles in Orange and Riverside counties after erupting Saturday and shooting through subdivisions entwined with wilderness parklands. By midday Sunday, multimillion-dollar homes were being threatened in Diamond Bar in Los Angeles County as the out-of-control fire pushed northward.

Fire officials on Sunday morning ordered 1,400 more residents to evacuate, in addition to 26,500 who had already been told to leave.

In the early morning, winds pushed flames dangerously close to a church and adjacent mobile home park in the Olinda Village area north of Yorba Linda, but firefighters beat it back. Only one mobile home was lost.

On Saturday, the fire burned 119 homes in the communities of Corona, Yorba Linda and Anaheim. In addition, 50 units of an apartment complex burned, an Orange County fire spokeswoman said. In the city of Brea, fire destroyed the main building of a high school.

About 50 miles to the northwest, a fire that burned more than 14 square miles in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley was 30 percent contained after devastating a luxury mobile home park early Saturday. The fire was largely burning in a rugged wilderness canyon.

Authorities said Sunday that 484 of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park’s 608 units were lost. The Sylmar fire also destroyed nine single-family homes and 11 commercial buildings.

About 90 miles northwest of Sylmar, a 3-square-mile fire that began in the upscale Santa Barbara County community of Montecito on Thursday night was 75 percent contained by Sunday morning after injuring at least 25 people.

County spokesman William Boyer said 130 homes burned in Santa Barbara and 80 burned in adjacent Montecito.

cAP writers Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Alex Veiga and Alicia Chang contributed to this report.

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