Thousands of residents are forced to flee their homes as a series of wind-driven wildfires rage across California.
LA fights 'worst fires in 50 years'
Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of residents forced to flee as a series of ferocious wind-driven wildfires raged across Southern California today. More than 500 mobile homes were gutted and 10,000 people evacuated by a blaze that ripped through a Los Angeles suburb in what officials said was one of the worst fires to ravage the city in nearly half a century. The fire, which erupted late Friday in the densely populated district of Sylmar, came as firemen continued to battle a fire in the celebrity enclave of Montecito, 160 kilometres to the north.
Fires also broke out in the cities of Yorba Linda and Corona, south-east of Los Angeles, reportedly destroying at least 20 homes and forcing the closure of several important transport routes. The Los Angeles fire, fuelled by seasonal winds of up to 130km/h, erupted late on Friday and has scorched 3,200 hectares. Ground zero of the firestorm was a mobile home park near Sylmar where more than 500 residences were reduced to a smouldering wasteland.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, blaming the spread of the fire on "absolutely atrocious" winds, said the blaze was one of the worst in the city's history. "We have never lost in recent times anything close to this number (of homes)," Mr Villaraigosa said. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the fire, which was 20 per cent contained by 8pm local time on Saturday, was the worst since a 1961 blaze in wealthy Bel Air that destroyed more than 480 homes.
"This is as bad a fire as I can remember since the 1961 fire," Mr Yaroslavsky said. Los Angeles Police Department chief William Bratton described the devastation as "absolutely incredible". "Words cannot describe it," Mr Bratton said. "This is a very established, residential, middle-class community and the idea that 500 of these families are now without a home is incredible." About 2,000 firemen, using helicopters, bulldozers and fire engines, were battling the fire, attempting to halt its advance as a state of emergency was declared across Los Angeles County.
Six people, including five firemen, were confirmed injured. The Sylmar fire was one of several burning across Southern California on Saturday, and authorities were tracking a large fire near Yorba Linda, 64kms south-east of Los Angeles, and neighbouring Corona. Vast plumes of smoke from the Yorba Linda blaze could be seen across the Los Angeles skyline and about 60 residences had been damaged or destroyed. The fire has consumed more than 800ha.
Meanwhile, hundreds of firemen were making progress against the fire which tore through the millionaires' playground of Montecito after erupting on Thursday. A total of 111 homes had been gutted by the fire, which has burnt about 728ha and was 40 per cent contained. * AFP