- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Stacks of charred bricks, blackened shells of cars and burned tree trunks were all that remained Monday in much of the community some residents once called the “Beverly Hills of mobile home parks.”

The mostly retired residents returned to see what was left of their homes at Oakridge Mobile Home Park, where winds with hurricane intensity blew a wall of fire through nearly 500 manufactured homes and set them ablaze so quickly that even firefighters had to drop their hoses and run.

“It looks like a war zone - no trees, no buildings,” said Michele Warneck, 54, who burst into tears after returning from the park.

Once considered a paradise with swimming pools and tennis courts, the park was now roamed by cadaver-sniffing dogs in search of anyone who didn’t escape. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that search ended Monday afternoon with investigators finding no evidence anyone perished.

The inferno destroyed 484 homes in the park Saturday. Firefighters were able to save about 120 homes, but many were severely damaged.

The fire was one of three that have destroyed about 1,000 homes and apartments and burned 41,000 acres, forcing thousands to flee.

Most evacuation orders were lifted by Monday, when clear skies and calm winds allowed firefighters to make some gains, but officials warned of another bad air day, and classes were canceled at dozens of schools near fire zones in Orange County.

In Sylmar, scores of residents stood in line outside a high school gym for tours of the charred mobile home park.

Those whose homes were destroyed were shuttled through the neighborhood in a black van. Police were investigating the fire, so people weren’t allowed to get out and sift through the ashes for scraps of their belongings.

A separate set of white police vans ferried residents whose homes were standing so they could gather medication and other essentials.

Cadaver dogs found only the cremated remains of a man who died several years ago.

Animal control recovered several dead animals and three live cats.

The fire left a local hospital in darkness, and nurses used hand-cranked ventilators to keep patients alive when the fire knocked out power to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar. Authorities are investigating why the emergency generator failed. No patients were harmed during the outage.

The largest of the fires has burned more than 28,000 acres in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and has destroyed more than 250 homes and apartment units. San Bernadino became the fourth county declared in a state of emergency.

In the Orange County suburb of Yorba Linda, residents returned to find more than 100 homes destroyed.

The first of the wildfires broke out in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County.

The causes of all the fires were under investigation, although officials labeled the Santa Barbara-area fire “human-caused,” said Doug Lannon, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

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