California fires destroy 1,000 homes, winds ease

Other News Materials 17 November 2008 06:32 (UTC +04:00)

Wildfires hop-scotched around Southern California on Sunday although calmer winds slowed flames that have destroyed almost 1,000 houses, forced tens of thousands to evacuate and turned some neighborhoods into scenes resembling war zones, Reuters reported.

A pall of towering, choking smoke blocked out the sun in much of the Los Angeles area and in Orange County to the south-east after flames ripped through tinder-dry brush. The fires jumped freeways and reduced mobile homes, multimillion dollar mansions and apartment blocks to ashes in about a dozen communities.

"I'm just seeing a lot of burned fields, smoke, burned down houses," said Nicole Gephardt as she looked out toward the Orange County area of Yorba Linda. "This is crazy knowing this is my community and it looks like a war zone."

Officials said wildfires have scorched more than 20,000 acres over the past four days in foothills north of Los Angeles, in Orange County canyons, and in the hilly celebrity enclave of Montecito near Santa Barbara. The fires broke out there on Thursday and incinerated 210 homes before being bought under control.

The causes of the fires were not known.

Hot, gusting winds eased on Sunday, allowing firefighters to create fire breaks with bulldozers and make better use of water-dropping aircraft.

Evacuation orders were lifted for more than half the estimated 50,000 people who fled their homes, but new fires threatened more than 3,500 houses. Fire officials said it would take days to extinguish all the blazes.

"This has been a very tough few days for the people of Southern California. We had the perfect storm -- high winds, high temperatures and it is very, very dry," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a news conference.