LOS ANGELES - Fires raged for the fourth day around Southern California on Sunday but lighter winds brought hopes of relief from blazes that have destroyed almost 1,000 houses, from mobile homes to multimillion-dollar mansions, and forced some 50,000 people to flee.
A pall of towering, choking smoke blocked out the sun in much of the
In one of the worst-hit areas -- a Los Angeles mobile home park in the foothills of Sylmar where fire devastated 500 trailers overnight on Friday -- police using cadaver dogs began a search for bodies of elderly or disabled residents who authorities fear may not have been able to get out in time.
"Fire raged through that park so quickly there was no way of stopping it. It was like matches," California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a news conference on Sunday.
"This has been a very tough few days for the people of
Officials said wildfires have scorched more than 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares) in foothills north of
Gusts of up to 80 miles per hour (128 km per hour) that have sent embers flying for miles over the last three days died down on Sunday, although most of the blazes are likely to take several days to extinguish.
FIVE MINUTES TO EVACUATE
"It's not as much of a wind-driven fire today," said
Janet Cunningham, 91, said she was given five minutes by a police officer to get out of her
"I was so nervous. Five minutes is so little time. I didn't think. I tried to get my clean panties out of the drawer. I didn't know which way to turn first. I just had eye surgery on Thursday and I'm not supposed to drive," Cunningham told Reuters.
"(The police officer) said I'd have to drive myself out. I don't know how I didn't have a heart attack. I must be so strong." Cunningham, who went to a rescue centre, said she believed her home of 38 years was safe. "I just hope and pray it will be any minute and everything will be OK and I can go home," she said tearfully.
Stephen Lord and his two kids grabbed their shoes and their dog Princess on
"We were just sitting there, starting to pack a few of our things, when they said we had to get out. We still don't know if the house is OK," Lord, 39, told Reuters, looking stunned as he sat with his family in his truck at a rescue centre.
Thick ash fell on cars and acrid smoke filled the air as far as 25 miles (40 km) away from the fires. Health authorities urged the elderly and children to stay indoors and said no one should be exercising outdoors.
In October 2007, 30 blazes raged across