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California Wildfires Prompt Evacuations, Emergency Measures

Wildfires continued to ravage Southern California Monday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes and businesses and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare emergencies in seven counties. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles provides an update from the scene in Malibu.

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  • JEFFREY KAYE, NewsHour Correspondent:

    The winds blew, the wildfires spread, and across Southern California hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes.


    The wind's pretty good, 30 or 40 knots…


    The brushfires, which flared up over the weekend, are being stoked by dry Santa Ana winds, some gusting as fast as 80 miles per hour. Combined with drought conditions, they are making it difficult for firefighters to contain the blazes.


    Fire crews got into that house. You remember, if you saw those pictures. And it looked like they were going to save it…


    L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told reporters the conditions created a perfect storm.

  • ZEV YAROSLAVSKY, Los Angeles County Supervisor:

    The winds are erratic. They are unpredictable. There is no telling where the fires will move and when. So until the fire departments tell us that it is safe and that it is contained, you have to assume that, at any given moment, even where there's no fire, that something could pop up in your neighborhood.


    By this afternoon, the fires had engulfed more than 100,000 acres, from Santa Barbara County, just north of Los Angeles, down to San Diego and the Mexican border.


    It's amazing. I mean, that fire overtook everything in a matter of hours.


    Two hundred and fifty thousand people were forced to evacuate in San Diego County, where fires encroached on homes and new blazes continued to flare up. In one neighborhood, firefighters were unable to stop the flames from spreading house to house. By this afternoon, one death had been reported in San Diego, and officials warned many more homes would be lost.

    Jerry Sanders is the mayor of San Diego.


    This is an extremely quick-moving fire, probably one like we've never seen before because of the strong winds and the heavy smoke. Because of that, we're unable to use air assets, because they can't get close enough, they can't see, and it's hazardous. For that reason, we're trying to evacuate areas as quickly as we can ahead of the fire so that people will be out of that area by the time the fire comes through.


    San Diego Fire Chief Bill Metcalf also urged residents to heed evacuation warnings and said people staying behind were hindering firefighting efforts.

  • CHIEF BILL METCALF, San Diego Fire Department:

    We've been unable to do any suppression efforts, because in most cases the fire resources are being used or having to pull off and do rescues, rescues of people who, in most cases, were asked to evacuate and didn't, didn't evacuate at all or delayed until it was too late. And those folks who are making those decisions are actually stripping fire resources away from the fire suppression efforts where we might be able to slow this thing down. We expect the weather to continue for another couple of days, and there's an awful lot of 0 percent-contained fire line out there.


    To the north in Malibu, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger toured some of the gutted structures. He has declared a state of emergency in the seven affected counties. Malibu suffered some of the worst destruction, after embers blew across the Pacific Coast Highway and set coastal mansions ablaze.


    It was getting pretty crazy, and the smoke started coming in, and we just took off. And as we were coming up PCH right here, it jumped the highway and there was flames, so we had to ride through the flames.


    Hundreds of firefighters battling the fire in Malibu were unable to save two landmarks: the Malibu Presbyterian Church and this 10,000-square-foot castle owned by the daughter of a former Iranian oil minister.

    Many residents were reminded of previous devastating fires that have swept through this community, the last major one in 2003. Today, many watched from their rooftops. Larry Larson said that he was prepared for any eventuality.

  • LARRY LARSON, Southern California Resident:

    I'm totally prepared. I've got 500 gallons of water. I've got pumps. I've got my own fire hydrant. I've got everything there is. My kids are here with me. They've got all the fire equipment. I even have foam, foam-a-duct. I have as much as probably on some of the fire engines.


    So you figure you're not going anyplace, you're staying here?


    Absolutely not. I didn't go in '93, didn't go now.


    Many residents were not taking any chances. Robert Garlan left his house around noon, carrying his two cats.

  • ROBERT GARLAN, Southern California Resident:

    I think it's more of a collective thing that we're all leaving together, but actually nobody came by and said a mandatory evacuation.


    At many canyon and hilltop homes, firefighters stood guard to provide structure protection.

  • CHRIS ROWE, Captain, Long Beach Fire Department:

    Right now, we've been reassigned to structure protection here on Carbon Mesa. The fire did burn through here yesterday. They still have some hot spots. So in case of wind shifts, we're looking for smokes and active fire that may begin to burn back up canyon towards us.


    So for right now, you're essentially guarding this house?


    Correct, yes, we've been assigned this structure here in Carbon Mesa. We will remain here until released by our division supervisor.


    Officials believe some of the fires may have been started by downed power lines, but there was confirmation a blaze in Orange County to the south of Los Angeles was arson.