Archive for Monday, November 17, 2008

Even as winds calm, more Californians flee wildfires

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 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 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. Multimillion-dollar homes were 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.

Retired aerospace engineer Joe Gomez, who has lived in his palm-tree-lined Diamond Bar neighborhood for 45 years, stayed put despite being under a mandatory evacuation.

"I'm trying to use some logic here," said Gomez, 72, trying to gauge the direction of the wind and flames. "I don't think it's going to come down this way."


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