500,000 evacuated in California wildfire crisis

500,000 evacuated in California wildfirecrisis

 24 October 2007

published by  abc.net.au

USA — More than 500,000 people have been ordered toevacuate their homes in California’s San Diego County as wildfires rage acrossthe state, officials said.

A statement from San Diego County officials said approximately 513,000 peoplein the district had received mandatory evacuation orders and an additional12,000 people had been advised to leave their homes.

The statement said a total of 349,915 households had received calls askingthem to evacuate.

Another person has died from burns in a fire north of Los Angeles, after thefirst death reported on Sunday some 241 kilometres away near San Diego.

San Diego County has emerged as the ground zero of California’s wildfirecrisis, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee from the multiplefires that have sprouted across the region.

In San Diego County alone, the fires had devastated more than 200,000 acresand “we may be approaching the 300,000 mark,” San Diego Mayor JerrySanders said.

Officials said people were cooperating and evacuating quickly, resulting inminimal loss of life.

Tens of thousands in San Diego County, including elderly evacuees fromnursing homes, spent the night in the Qualcomm sports stadium or the Del MarFairgrounds, as did thousands of pets and horses.

Just one person has died, in a San Diego fire on Sunday, and some three dozenhave been injured.

The fires, whipped by hot, dry Santa Ana winds gusting to 113 kilometres perhour have swept the drought stricken region unchecked over the past two daysfrom Santa Barbara to the Mexican border 370km to the south.

The National Weather Service said “strong and damaging winds” willcontinue near Los Angeles through mid-afternoon, and high wind warnings may beissued for some areas. In San Diego, the strong winds fanning the flames wereexpected through today.

Bush declares emergency

Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger summoned aid from 1,500 NationalGuard troops, including 200 from the Mexican border, to help with firefighting,evacuations and crowd control.

Neighbouring states, including Nevada and Arizona, rushed in crews andequipment. President George W Bush early yesterday declared an emergency in thestate and authorised the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinatedisaster relief in the seven counties stricken by wildfires.

Among the thousands at the Qualcomm stadium were about 300 people evacuatedfrom nursing homes. Volunteers set up tents for families and seniors in thewalkways of the stadium.

“There’s no word on our house,” said Don Parmaley, who was at thestadium with his wife, Rose. “We were able to find a hotel room last nightbut they had to evacuate the hotel this morning.”

The firestorms closed major state highways, schools and businesses and plumesof thick black smoke drifted across much of Southern California, blotting outthe sun.

One official said the Witch Fire could prove as devastating as 2003’sso-called Cedar Fire that burned 280,000 acres and killed 15 people.

A blaze in the seaside enclave of Malibu that had blackened 2,400 acres waspartly contained, having destroyed 10 buildings including a landmark castle anda church.

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