Thousands flee wind-whipped
Deadly blazes prompt evacuations but expert says gusts weaken
NBC News and news services,
LOS ANGELES - Powerful winds stoked three major wildfires on Tuesday morning after destroying dozens of homes, forcing thousands to flee and leaving two people dead.
The fires have charred nearly 13,000 acres in suburban
More than 2,000 firefighters and a fleet of water- and retardant-dropping aircraft battled the 5,000 acre Sesnon Fire, which was burning brightly and sending flames skyward Tuesday in canyons on the west end of the valley, and the 5,300-acre Marek Fire at the northeast end. Combined, more than 15 square miles had burned.
Weather Channel meteorologist Buzz Bernard said the gusts were "not so strong" as on Monday morning, when they approached 100 mph.
Marine base in jeopardy
Another 3,000 acres were scorched by Tuesday morning in Camp Pendleton, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,400 homes at the huge San Diego County Marine base and in nearby Oceanside, according to the base's Web site. The fast-growing blaze had yet to burn any structures on the base.
Firefighters had little to no containment of any of the fires early Tuesday.
"The fire wants to make its way to the coast, and we're going to do our level best to stop it," said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey. "Two-thirds of our department is on the line."
The California Highway Patrol expected difficult traffic Tuesday morning as several offramps remained closed and winds were high off the 210 Foothill Freeway, but both the 210 and 118 freeways were open in both directions after being closed amid smoke and flame on Monday.
A motorist was killed Monday in a fiery crash when he slammed into the rear end of a car stopped on the 118 Freeway in the
A second fatality was discovered Monday at the Marek Fire, an area where neighborhoods abut rugged canyonlands below the mountainous
Authorities confirmed more than three dozen mobile homes burned in the Marek Fire, and 19 structures some of them homes were destroyed by the Sesnon Fire. Commercial sites burned in both fires.
Fire officials alerted other communities to the west in the Ventura County city of Simi Valley and south to Malibu, 20 miles away, as an ominous plume streamed over neighborhoods and far out to sea.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in
"Winds are causing fire conditions to change by the hour, which is why it is so important that residents in the areas surrounding these wildfires heed warnings from public safety officials to evacuate," Schwarzenegger said.
Firefighters on Monday were struggling with the resurgent, day-old Marek Fire when a new blaze erupted at midmorning a few miles to the west on
Residents were not allowed to drive into one of Porter Ranch's gated communities, so they parked their cars, ran to their homes and carried out whatever they could carry in pillow cases, in their arms, sacks and suitcases. Some ran out clutching paintings.
Matthew Vitiello, 46, stuck it out with his two dogs as embers rained down around him and a nearby home burned. Asked why he decided not to evacuate, Vitiello pointed to a pine tree across the street.
"If that sucker goes, then it's time for me to go," he said.
An estimated 1,200 people were evacuated due to the Marek Fire, which was just 5 percent contained.
"We could have had an army there and it would not have stopped it," Battalion Chief Mario Rueda said. "Wind is king here, it's dictating everything we are doing."
The dry and warm
There was better news up north. Firefighters almost completely extinguished a wildfire that scorched more than half of
The blaze on
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