x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Californian wildfires rage on

Firemen in southern California continue to battle wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of homes, forcing thousands of residents to flee.

DIAMOND BAR, CALIFORNIA // More residents of southern California were urged to leave their homes on Sunday despite calming winds that allowed a major aerial attack on wildfires. During the last four days, the blazes have destroyed hundreds of homes and blanketed Los Angeles County and surrounding areas in smoke. The fires, which have burnt more than 88sq km since they broke out on Thursday, have destroyed more than 800 houses, mobile homes and apartments.

No deaths have been reported, but police brought in trained dogs yesterday 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," said Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger said. The smell of smoke pervaded metropolitan Los Angeles. Downtown skyscrapers were silhouettes in an opaque sky, and concerns about air quality forced organisers 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 yesterday morning, allowing firemen to set backfires to prevent flames from advancing to hillside neighbourhoods. Air tankers swooped low over suburbs, red fire retardant billowing from their underbellies, as they painted defensive lines between brush lands and homes. Big helicopters shuttled back and forth on water drops. The most threatening blaze had scorched more than 42sq km in Orange and Riverside counties after erupting on 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 ordered 1,400 more residents to evacuate yesterday morning, 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 neighbourhood for 45 years, stayed put despite being under a mandatory evacuation. "I'm trying to use some logic here," said Mr Gomez, 72, trying to gauge the direction of the wind and flames. "I don't think it's going to come down this way."

On Saturday, the fire burnt 119 homes in the communities of Corona, Yorba Linda and Anaheim. In addition, 50 units of an apartment complex burnt, Orange County fire spokesman Angela Garbiso said. In the Orange County city of Brea, fire part of a high school. About 80km to the north west, a large fire that torched a mobile home park in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley had moved into the rugged San Gabriel Mountains and was burning vigorously - but well outside the city. Authorities said yesterday that 484 of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park's 608 units were lost. The fire also destroyed nine single-family homes and 11 commercial buildings. The park was home to many elderly residents, and though no fatalities were reported and no one was reported missing, investigators were searching the site using trained dogs. The search was about 30 per cent complete by midday yesterday. "To this point no human remains have been found," said Deputy Police Chief Michael Moore.

* AP