San Diego, California, USA — Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hasdeclared a state of emergency in seven counties of California, where wildfireshave killed at least one person and forced mass evacuations.
“Governor Schwarzenegger tonight proclaimed a state of emergency in thecounties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, SantaBarbara, and Ventura due to more than 11 major wildfires,” his office saidin a statement on Sunday.
“The Governor’s emergency proclamation allows the state Office of EmergencyServices to deploy emergency personnel, equipment and facilities and providelocal government assistance.”
A firefighting helicopter drops water behind the Pacific CoastHighway as high winds push a wildfire toward multi-million dollar homes, manyowned by celebrities. Photo: AFP
Firefighters were working into the night battling the blazes, which startedin the early morning and burned all day, fanned by strong winds. One person diedfighting a fire near San Diego and several others were injured elsewhere.
“Throughout the region, more than 30,000 acres [12,000 hectares] havealready burned, and more areas are threatened. The wildfires have caused theloss of human life and serious injuries,” the Governor’s statement added.
“They have burned a number of homes, businesses and other structures.Residents have been evacuated in dangerous areas.”
Stars evacuated as homes under threat
Wildfires have charred parts of the exclusive seaside enclave of Malibu andforced evacuations of million-dollar homes of many top Hollywood stars.
Australian singer Olivia Newton-John’s home was among those evacuated, it wasreported, while Mel Gibson’s home was also under threat.
Wind gusts of up to 100 km/h fed the flames which devoured at least one churchand several houses, forcing entire neighbourhoods to evacuate in Malibu.
One person was killed and four firefighters were seriously injured while tryingto protect a home from a wildfire in Potrero, near the Mexican border, 50kilometres east of San Diego, the fire department said.
More than 500 firefighters were battling to contain the blazes, as fast-movingflames devoured hundreds of hectares of tree-lined hillsides and filled the areawith thick smoke.
Thousands of students at Pepperdine University were evacuated from theirdormitories and moved into the cafeteria in the central section of the campus,which is believed to be well-protected from threatening fires.
Nearby, the Malibu Presbyterian Church caught fire early yesterday and burned tothe ground – along with several private homes.
The blaze destroyed much of the Malibu Castle, also known as Hodge Castle, ahilltop landmark built in 1978 and put up for sale in March for $US17 million.
The famous Malibu Pier that appeared in the 1990s television series Baywatchwas being sprayed by country patrol boats to protect it from the blowing embers.
“I woke up around 5.30 this morning and had smelled smoke and I saw somelights on Malibu Canyon Road,” Malibu resident David Masi told NBCtelevision. “I kept smelling it and the smoke kept getting more and morepervasive.”
Southern California has been on “red alert” over the weekend due tothe high winds, temperatures of nearly 30 degrees and persistent dry conditions.
Malibu, about 30 kilometres west of Los Angeles, is home to othercelebrities including Sting, Jennifer Aniston, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand,Cher, Richard Gere, Martin Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg and Dreamworks studiosco-founders David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
The homes of Newton-John and director James Cameron were among those evacuated,celebrity site TMZ.com reported.
“The residents understand the danger,” fire inspector Ron Haralsontold Channel 2 television.
“They understand the importance of getting a head start or a jump on firessuch as this that move very quickly and are erratic, so the residents there havebeen co-operating.”