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Thousands flee gutted homes in LA

world Updated: Nov 16, 2008 16:49 IST
Steve Gorman
Steve Gorman
Reuters
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Los Angeles firefighters on Sunday battled wind-whipped blazes raging around the second-largest U.S. city that have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people into shelters.

Fires driven by strong Santa Ana winds darkened the skies all day on Saturday, scorching more than 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) in half a dozen communities neighboring the city.

At least 22,600 people were ordered to evacuate but no deaths or serious injuries have been reported so far.

The Sayre fire, which erupted overnight on Friday in a forested area near Sylmar, north of Los Angeles, charred some 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) and burned hundreds of homes. A map of the fire is at http://tinyurl.com/sayrefire.

A fifth of the Sayre fire had been contained by Saturday evening and the Los Angeles County Fire Department was optimistic about reining it in as long as dry winds from the desert did not pick up again.

"We're at the mercy of the wind. Mother Nature's not been too good to us for the last 15 hours," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

Another fire flared southeast of Los Angeles in Orange and Riverside counties on Saturday morning, charring 2,000 acres (809 hectares) in the communities of Yorba Linda, Brea, Anaheim and Corona. More than 100 apartments and houses were damaged or destroyed.

In Anaheim, home to Disneyland, 12,600 people were ordered to evacuate, while 10,000 more were asked to leave their homes in the Sylmar area, officials said.

Firefighters were still battling a two-day-old blaze in the celebrity enclave of Montecito, farther up the coast near Santa Barbara, where 210 homes have been destroyed. The fire in the community dubbed "America's Riviera" was about 60 percent contained, a spokeswoman said.

'A BLACK HOLE'

California's fire season, which traditionally starts in June, has been lengthening and getting worse as the dry state adds homes in fringe areas prone to flames.

Los Angeles County, home to nearly 10 million people, had been largely spared damage this year. In October of last year, 30 blazes raged across Southern California, forcing evacuation of more than 500,000 people and damaging some 2,000 homes.

"When you walk around the areas that were devastated, it looked like hell today," Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, reporters on Saturday.

In the Sylmar area, mountains were engulfed in flames and dense clouds of grayish-brown smoke. Soot hung in the air, which was heavy with the smell of burning wood.

"You could see absolutely nothing," said Jackie Burns, 77, who fled her mobile home in Sylmar with her husband Len at 3 a.m. on Saturday as the fire raged through the neighborhood.

"It was like looking into a black hole. It looked like the end of the world to me."

(Additional reporting by Fred Prouser in Los Angeles and Anupreeta Das and Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by Eric Walsh and John O'Callaghan)