USA — People burned out of a mobile home park returned to the ashes Tuesday on a windless day that helped crews mop up wildfires that damaged or destroyed nearly 1,000 homes.
Santa Ana winds that swept six Southern California counties like a blowtorch over the weekend calmed to 5-mph breezes. No flames were seen and crews were mainly dousing smoldering spots, fire officials said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers geared up to help those who lost their homes. President George W. Bush made a disaster declaration for California, freeing federal aid to areas ravaged by the wildfires that blacked more than 65 square miles.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger signed an executive order waiving state fees for fire victims who need to replace destroyed birth certificates and other documents or obtain state property inspections. The order also waived a one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance applicants who lost their jobs because of the fire.
Los Angeles County Assessor Rick Auerbach said his office had begun identifying damaged or destroyed homes in order to reassess their value and provide their onwers with property tax relief.
The first of the wildfires broke out in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County, about 90 miles northwest of Sylmar. The nearly 2,000-acre blaze destroyed 210 homes. The fire, which was contained Monday, was believed to have been caused by humans but investigators had not determined whether it was by accident or on purpose.
More than two dozen people were injured in the fire, including a Montecito couple who remained in critical condition Tuesday at the University of California, Irvine, Medical Center. Lance and Carla Hoffman, both 29, were severely burned on Nov. 13 while fleeing their home, which was destroyed.
In Los Angeles County, an 11,213-acre fire in the San Fernando Valley was 70 percent contained.
“I think were going to make progress today if the wind stays at it is,” said Dee Dechert, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s playing into our hands, if you will.”
For a second day, officials allowed residents to return to the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in Sylmar for a few minutes to salvage what they could from acres of ashes. The fire burned about 480 homes and left 125 standing.
The county said it was sending crisis counseling teams to comfort the victims.
The last remaining evacuation order was lifted in Orange County, where a nearly 29,000-acre complex of fires was 75 percent contained and some of the 3,760 firefighters were being released.
“On the fire ground, it’s looking very favorable….We’re still hunting and searching, trying to get the hot spots,” said Bill Peters with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The weekend blaze destroyed 155 homes and apartments, damaged 104 more, and damaged three commercial buildings.
The cost of fighting the fire was put at $10.7 million, Peters said.
The fire was probably caused by the exhaust system of a car, fire officials said. Heat from the tailpipe or catalytic converter may have ignited brush in the Riverside County town of Corona, authorities said.