Homes destroyed in wildfire
Sun, Nov 16, 2008

LOS ANGELES, USA - MORE than 500 mobile homes were destroyed and 10,000 people fled as a wildfire described as the most devastating to hit Los Angeles in nearly half a century ripped through a city suburb on Saturday, officials said.

One day after an inferno laid waste to over 100 mansions in the celebrity enclave of Montecito, 160km up the coast, California's fire scourge struck in the densely populated district of Sylmar on the northern fringe of Los Angeles.

The wildfire - fuelled by seasonal winds of up to 129km per hour - erupted on late Friday and swept through some 2,630ha turning everything in its path to charred ruins, authorities said.

Ground zero of the blaze was a mobile home park near Sylmar where more than 500 residences were reduced to a smoldering wasteland by early Saturday.

Los Angeles officials described the blaze as one of the worst in the city's history in terms of its speed and sheer destruction.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, blaming the spread of the fire on 'absolutely atrocious' winds, said the blaze was the worst of recent memory.'

'We have never lost in recent times anything close to this number,' Mr Villaraigosa told reporters.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yarovslavsky, said the fire, which was 10 percent contained by 1pm local time (5am, Singapore time), 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. 'The explosiveness of it, and the human devastation that is involved ...'

'Five hundred families lost their home last night and this morning. And our hearts go out to them. We just can't weigh their loss heavily enough.'

Around 1,100 firefighters using helicopters, bulldozers and engines were battling the fire, attempting to halt its advance as a state of emergency was declared across Los Angeles County.

Remarkably, only four people, including three firefighters, were confirmed injured but Mr Villaraigosa warned the casualty toll increase.

Los Angeles fire captain Steve Ruda said temperatures at the mobile home park had been so fierce that fire hoses had melted into the cement.

Meanwhile reports staff at the Olive View Medical Centre had to tend to patients on respirators using hand-operated pumps because of power outages after the fire erupted on late Friday.

The fire forced the closure of several major freeways and led to rolling blackouts across Los Angeles before power was eventually restored.

The Sylmar fire was one of several burning across Southern California on Saturday, and authorities were anxiously tracking a large fire that had erupted near Yorba Linda, 6.4km southeast of Los Angeles, and neighbouring Corona.

Vast plumes of smoke from the Yorba Linda blaze could be seen across the Los Angeles skyline and at least a dozen homes had been damaged or destroyed.

Meanwhile, hundreds of firefighters were making progress against the fire which tore through the millionaire's playground Montecito after erupting on Thursday.

Some 111 homes had been gutted by the fire, which has burned around 1,800 acres and was 40 per cent contained.

Montecito is popular with the super-rich, and celebrities such as talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey and Hollywood actors Michael Douglas, Jeff Bridges and Rob Lowe all own property in the area.

There have been no reported fatalities but 13 injuries, including three suffering from burns and 10 suffering from smoke inhalation, according to figures from Santa Barbara County.

California is frequently hit by scorching wildfires due to its dry climate, Santa Ana winds and recent housing booms which have seen housing spread rapidly into rural and densely forested areas.

The latest fires come just over a year after devastating wildfires that were among the worst in California history, that left eight people dead, gutted 2,000 homes, displaced 640,000 people and caused one billion dollars in damage.

In June and July this year, a series of about 2,000 fires raged across the state, scorching some 36,000ha of land.


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