Firefighters make gains; hope to contain blazes this week

Other News Materials 18 November 2008 04:33 (UTC +04:00)

Aided by lighter winds Monday, firefighters in southern California were gaining the upper hand on three wildfires that have devastated the region. They were hopeful of containing the blazes by mid-week, dpa reported.

The fires have destroyed hundreds of homes since Thursday, including 500 mobile homes in Sylmar, east of Los Angeles. More than 100 homes in the luxurious celebrity enclave of Montecito, northwest of Los Angeles, also went up in flames.

According to figures released Monday by Cal Fire and the National Inter-agency Fire Centre, the Triangle Complex fire had burnt 11,600 hectares and 60 structures, and was 40 per cent contained. The Sayre fire had burnt 4,400 hectares and 611 structures and was also 40 per cent contained. The Tea Fire had burnt 800 hectares and 210 structures and was 95 per cent contained.

In total, more than 6,500 firefighters were trying to contain the blazes and well over 30,000 people were ordered to evacuate.

"Although the reports appear to look more favourable today, this is still a very dangerous situation and a lot of people are impacted," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday.

Fire officials said they had not yet determined the cause of any of the fires but had ruled out natural causes in the case of Montecito's Tea Fire. The fires were fanned by seasonal Santa Ana winds that gust in from the eastern desert, blowing warm dry air at speeds exceeding 110 kilometres per hour, transferring burning embers from tree to tree and house to house.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in three counties and called for tougher standards for mobile home construction after the extent of the destruction at the mobile home park became clear, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The latest round of fires exacerbated what had already been a disastrous wildfire year for California, where more than 624,000 hectares had burnt before the latest wildfires, compared to 608,000 hectares last year.