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California wildfires force more residents to flee

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Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 10:00 pm

SAN DIEGO - Walls of wind-whipped flames consumed hundreds of homes across tinder-dry Southern California on Tuesday, raising the number of people forced to flee the flames into the hundreds of thousands.

The blazes bedeviled firefighters as fires roared from mountain passes to the edges of the state's celebrated coastline, spreading so quickly that even hotels serving as temporary shelters for evacuees had to be evacuated. Two people have been killed.

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By day three, the dozen wildfires had burned more than 1,200 homes and businesses, and the destruction may only be the start for the region. With forecasts calling for hotter temperatures and fierce wind gusts, the flames were proving nearly impossible to fight.

At least 346,000 homes were ordered to evacuate in San Diego County alone, sheriff's officials said. But the total number could be much higher, and state officials were still struggling to estimate how many people had fled.

Marilee Bishop of Running Springs and her 10 year-old-daughter, Erica, rubbed their red eyes Tuesday morning as they woke up in a Wal-Mart parking lot where they spent the night after being forced to leave their home.

"No one ever expects something like this to happen to them," said Bishop, as thick smoke rose in the skies behind her.

Since they began Sunday, the fires have burned at least 245,957 acres, or 384 square miles - an area larger than New York City.

As the fires spread, most out of control, smaller blazes were merging into larger, more fearsome ones. Evacuations were being announced in one community after another as firefighters found themselves overwhelmed by gale-force Santa Ana winds, some gusting to 70 mph.

President Bush declared a federal emergency for seven counties, a move that will speed disaster-relief efforts. But White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was "very premature" to talk on Tuesday about a presidential stop in the region.

"All of us across this nation are concerned for the families who have lost their homes and the many families who have been evacuated from their homes," Bush said Tuesday. "We send the help of the federal government."

As she looked out of her apartment window Friday, Christy Decker, 21, noticed something alarming.
She was surrounded by a ring of orange light from the fires all along the horizon.
Hearing that some of her friends had already been evacuated from their apartments in Calabasas, near the Malibu Canyon fire, Decker, a former Lodi High School student and current senior at Pepperdine University, decided to leave her apartment before the fire forced her out.
She and a few friends drove to the city of Orange, where they stayed with a friend overnight. From her friend's house she could see the fire burning in Irvine, but decided to stay at the apartment.
Because classes at Pepperdine University were canceled on Monday the group decided to go to Disneyland, where they spent an afternoon.
Decker, learning that her apartment in Calabasas had not been evacuated, decided to return to her home Monday night.
- News-Sentinel staff.
• Those looking for loved ones affected by the fires in Southern California should check with the American Red Cross' Safe and Well List, a Web site providing a way for disaster victims to let concerned friends and family members know that they are safe.
• Visit the Safe and Well List by going to http://www.redcross.org and clicking on the Safe and Well List link.
• Friends and family are urged not to call evacuation centers directly, said Laura Howe, spokesperson for the American Red Cross. At this stage, she said, the centers do not have the resources to answer phone calls.
- News-Sentinel Staff
Editor's note: Lodi News-Sentinel columnist Wade Heath lives in Southern California. This is his first-person account of the fires.
There are five fires burning around me and my home in north Orange County.
The Irvine fire, is one of the most recent, and it is coming from the east. The skies are very dark and the wind is raging and painful to be in. The wind gusts with ashes and dirt, making it incredibly hard for anyone to be outdoors.
My face was cut up (minor cuts) yesterday due to these Santa Ana winds that have reached near 60 mph. Whole trees have toppled over, as well as street lights and telephone poles.
My car is covered with ash and dirt. If I am outside for longer than two hours, then I am filthy and have to wash my clothes. It's very hard to breathe and my nose is constantly clogged due to the fine debris.
Everyone's eyes are burning.
I am watching the television news and in person. Homes in the area are burning with no firefighters able to stop them. The firefighters are strained and using every resource. They are picking and choosing which fires to fight, because there just aren't enough of them.
Orange County sheriff's deputies are attempting to transport inmates due to an immediate evacuation in Irvine.
While I haven't been asked to evacuate yet, areas within 10 to 15 miles of me have. I can walk out my door and see through the dark yellow air to the orange flames in all of the hills and mountains around me in nearly every direction.
Hundreds of homes have been lost and 250,000 people were evacuated earlier today in San Diego because fire officials don't know where the fires will head next.
The winds are even more fierce in other areas, some gusting up to 70 mph, and two nearby hill communities close to 80 mph.
Smoke and bad air is being pushed in from every direction. The fires are literally popping up from out of nowhere.
I haven't called my parents to tell them of how immediate the threat is because I don't want to worry them. But today the weather is even hotter, now topping 90 degrees.
In essence, you have hurricane-like winds mixed-in with multiple fires, and horrible air quality threatening hundreds of thousands of homes and even more people.
Firefighters are fighting this blaze from every town and even some from out of state.
Little progress is being made, and locals have gone from nervous, to alarmed as these fires continue to burn and push in a different direction every few minutes.

Fire crews and fleeing residents described desperate conditions that were sure to get worse. Temperatures across Southern California were about 10 degrees above average and were expected to approach 100 degrees Tuesday in Orange and San Diego counties.

Deputies arrested two men for looting in the community of Ramona, and there were a handful of other looting cases reported, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Mike McClain.

The fires were exploding and shooting embers in all directions, preventing crews from forming traditional fire lines and severely limiting aerial bombardment, officials said.

"Lifesaving is our priority. Getting people out from in front of the fire - those have been our priorities," said Capt. Don Camp, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Thousands of residents sought shelter at fairgrounds, schools and community centers. The largest gathering was at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, where up to 10,000 evacuees anxiously watched the stadium's television sets, hoping for a glimpse of their neighborhood on the local news. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders pleaded for donations of blankets, cots, pillows and food for the people staying there, and officials said more people were expected to arrive Tuesday.

"It's basically a mass migration here in San Diego County," Luis Monteagudo, a spokesman for the county's emergency effort.

San Diego County was ablaze from its rural north to its border region with Mexico, where the wildfires that started Sunday claimed their first fatality: Thomas Varshock, 52, of Tecate, a town on the U.S. side of the border southeast of San Diego. His body was found Sunday afternoon, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said.

An unidentified civilian died of burns in a fire in Santa Clarita, the U.S. Forest Service said. Overall, 42 people were injured, 16 of them firefighters.

In San Diego County, public schools were closed, as were campuses at the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University.

The scope of the infernos was immense and was reminiscent of the blazes that tore through Southern California four years ago this month, killing 22 and destroying 3,640 homes.


Running Springs firefighter Scott Limpus works the front line on Iris Drive in Green Valley Lake on Monday. (Courtesy photo)

The fires have been made worse by fierce Santa Ana winds. The winds - which sweep through Southern California's canyons in fall and winter - are stronger than normal, turning already parched scrubland into tinder. They generated walls of flame that bore down on housing developments in a wide swath.

East of Los Angeles, a two-front fire destroyed at least 160 homes in the Lake Arrowhead area, the same mountain resort community where hundreds of homes were lost four years earlier. Officials said at least 100 more homes were destroyed Tuesday in the mountain community of Running Springs, not far away.

Touring an evacuee camp at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged to do everything in his power to assist the firefighting effort and help those who have lost their homes.

"I will be relentless all the way through this," Schwarzenegger said.

Associated Press writers Chelsea J. Carter, Jeremiah Marquez, Daisy Nguyen and Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles, Martha Mendoza in Lake Arrowhead, Jacob Adelman in Santa Clarita, Elliot Spagat and Scott Lindlaw in San Diego, Pauline Arrillaga in Del Mar and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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14 comments:

  • posted at 12:02 pm on Fri, Oct 26, 2007.

    Posts:

    The loss of a billion dollars worth of property is a bargain, really. Think about it; At the rate we waste money in Iraq, we could burn these houses down and rebuild them again three times a week, every week, for the past four years and then into the future indefinitely...

     
  • posted at 10:25 am on Thu, Oct 25, 2007.

    Posts:

    I am tired, I propose that Nor-Cal breaks all ties from So-Cal, and begin living the life we pay for...

     
  • posted at 3:34 am on Thu, Oct 25, 2007.

    Posts:

    Nice to see how compassionate and tolerant some liberals were by blaming "people that build houses in places they shouldn't, this isn't an act of God, this is an act of man." Jamie Lee Curtis. George Carlin, showing his respect for those who lost everything, "they put nature to the test, and they get what's comming to them". Liberal Democrat Harry Reid, "One reason we have fires in California is global warming." Can't get much more caring than that Senator.

     
  • posted at 11:24 am on Wed, Oct 24, 2007.

    Posts:

    Christy and Wade, take care of yourselves and come home safe!

     
  • posted at 5:53 am on Wed, Oct 24, 2007.

    Posts:

    This is a direct result of the disrespect of nature, continue to over build this will continue to occur..

    While I do not think that losing ones house is funny, how many times should SoCal be rebuilt???

     
  • posted at 7:41 pm on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    Get ready for another big, big insurance premium jump! I don't mind paying an extra thousand so someone can rebuild,(again) and live with an ocean or mountain view. WAKE UP California!! We should have law's like Oregon that state "if your ocean property is destroyed, that's it. You will need to build somewhere safer, but not on this spot again".

     
  • posted at 5:18 pm on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    You people are all idiots. (Chuck, I know!!, etc.) People lost their homes and you are joking about how it started. Would you be joking if it were YOUR home?

     
  • posted at 3:44 pm on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    Since this page seems to be blogged by nuts and nut cases, I am pleased to offer my nutty comments.....it is because The Arnold Schwartzenzenegger wants your children indoctrinated into bestiality, transvestism, and homosexuality and perversions of all kinds. Someone had to be mad.....maybe mother nature ?? fire and brimstone.....nawwwwwww

     
  • posted at 1:16 pm on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    well if anyone needs a job! time to travel south!! they will need all this rebuilt...

     
  • posted at 11:33 am on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    this is caused by Hillary Clinton!

     
  • posted at 9:15 am on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    I heard on the noon news that FEMA was sending people. If they don't do any better than they did in New Orleans keep them home. Those people don't need anymore problems. Maybe they can send Bushes friend Brownie and he can do a heck of a job like he did in New Orleans.

     
  • posted at 5:14 am on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    its Bush`s fault!!!

     
  • posted at 4:53 am on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    lets blame this on global warming why dont we fires like this have been going on for hundreds of years if not more i like how hippies and gore fans blame everything on global warming its just fire season again thats all! oh wait lets blame it on bush

     
  • posted at 2:25 am on Tue, Oct 23, 2007.

    Posts:

    Doesn't this seem strangely reminiscent of the Greek fires a few months ago? How did all of these fires start in a 24 hour period? It wasn't global warming....

     

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