Wind-Whipped Fires Spread Misery Across Southern California
LOS ANGELES, California, November 17, 2008 (ENS) – High winds, high temperatures and extremely dry conditions have whipped up fires across southern California that destroyed the home of actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones among 100 others in the coastal town of Montecito.
Neither of the actors or their two children was home at the time the house caught fire, a spokesman for the couple said.
At least 13 people have been injured in the blazes and thousands of others fled the flames that have burned down dozens of luxury homes, parts of a college campus and hundreds of other homes in four California counties.
Three major fires are active now in Southern California:
* The Tea Fire one mile northeast of Montecito in Santa Barbara County has burned 1,940 acres and is considered 95 percent contained. The Santa Ana winds decreased today and the approximately 1,300 firefighters on the job were able to make progress toward containment goals.
There were 210 residences destroyed in the Tea Fire and nine others were damaged. At this point, no further residences are threatened. An early warning notification system helped to evacuate 4,500 residents and communicated a voluntary evacuation of an additional 4,500 residents. All evacuation orders now have been lifted.
There will be power outages in the communities of Montecito, Santa Barbara City and Santa Barbara County while power lines are being repaired.
* The Freeway Complex Fire four miles east of Aneheim in Orange County has burned 28,889 acres at 19 percent contained. Evacuations remain in place for Brea and Chino Hills. More than 3,500 residences are threatened.
* The Sayre Fire in Los Angeles three miles northeast of San Fernando has burned 10,077 acres and is considered to be 40 percent contained. Numerous residences and power lines are threatened.
The fire broke out in the foothills community of Sylmar on the edge of the Angeles National Forest late Friday night and burned more than two square miles in a few hours.
The Oakridge Mobile Home Park at Glenoaks and the 210 Freeway in Sylmar was burned to the ground, destroying some 600 mobile homes and displacing hundreds of people, some of them elderly or disabled.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. The Los Angeles Police Department has taped off the mobile home park, which is now considered a crime scene.
Los Angeles City Fire Department Captain Steve Ruda told mobile home park evacuees gathered at Sylmar High School Saturday morning that firefighters’ “hoses melted into the cement” and the scene was “an absolute firestorm.”
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began taking major power transmission lines near the Sayre Fire out of service at Saturday morning as the fire moved west toward the I-5 Corridor in Sylmar. The I-5 corridor through Sylmar serves as a major utility corridor for the LADWP and other utilities, bringing imported power to Los Angeles from power plants in the Pacific Northwest and Southwestern parts of the country. As the fire moved toward the high-voltage transmission lines, the LADWP turned off these lines to ensure the safety of firefighters and the public.
All power to the area has now been restored.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared states of emergency in four counties – Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Orange and Riverside.
]Firefighter at work at the Sayre Fire in
Los Angeles County (Photo courtesy LA
County Fire Dept.)
At a news conference Sunday morning, the governor said that in total at least 10,000 people were ordered to evacuate the Sayre Fire area; 630 structures were destroyed, and 7,500 structures are still threatened by fire.
John Tripp of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told reporters what the firefighters faced on Friday night. “These firefighters that were in there, the Chief of Los Angeles city and I, when we heard that that mobile home park was undefendable, there were commanders that went right in there to make sure those decisions were correct.”
“When we went in there and that wall of flame hit our car and our tires exploded on our car, we knew that call was the right thing,” said Tripp. “And the only thing that we could think of was thank God that our firefighters were getting out of there. By the grace of God, we were hoping that every civilian was able to get out of there.”
No fatalities were reported, and emergency personnel will do a thorough search of the mobile home park to ensure that everyone got out alive as soon as the scene is cool enough for inspection.
Governor Schwarzenegger said he believes the increasing number of fires occurring in California is the result of climate change.
“I think that everyone has recognized that this is a different situation now than we had in the past. I think the last two years or so we have seen that this is not anymore a fire season in the fall, like we usually have had but there is fire season all year round.”
“We have seen the fire starting in February. We have fires in March, in April, in June. We have them now. They will continue. I think it is because of the weather change, the climate change,” said the governor.
He stressed the importance of giving fire officials and firefighters the support they need – more manpower, more engines, more helicopters, more fixed-wing aircraft and more training so the state can be ready for these challenges.
While the state of California currently is in a budget crunch, Governor Schwarzenegger told reporters that there is enough money to handle fire-relateddisasters.
“We have $2.5 billion of reserves here in California we put aside for emergencies. So don’t have any worry about that,” he said. “All of the money that we have will be thrown at those kind of things. And we have federal assistance also, through FEMA and so on. So we all, Los Angeles, the counties, everyone works together here in order to rebuild people’s homes and their lives again and to fight those fires and to pay for all of those things.”