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Over 500,000 Evacuated as Winds Feed California Fires

Wildfires in Southern California became almost impossible for firefighters to control Tuesday, and officials said 1,300 homes and businesses have burned down. A San Diego official describes how residents are coping.

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  • JEFFREY KAYE, NewsHour Correspondent:

    There was little relief for firefighters and homeowners today, as lines of fire advanced across Southern California, destroying more than 1,000 homes, most in the San Diego area. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes.


    We're in what we call the perfect storm of fire conditions.


    About a dozen fires are burning from north of Los Angeles down to the Mexican border, scorching nearly 600 square miles, an area larger than New York City. The fires are whipped by dry, erratic Santa Ana winds.

    RON ROBERTS, Chair, San Diego County Board of Supervisors: We are entering day three of what appears to be one of the worse fires, probably the worst fire in San Diego County history, and easily one of the worst fires in the history of the state of California.


    By this afternoon, two people had died in the California fires. More than 45 people have been injured, 18 of them firefighters. To encourage evacuations, officials have gone door to door and placed calls to residents in endangered communities.


    I just put water in the truck, the kids in the truck, the dogs in the truck, and I just left everything else. I just looked around and I thought, "None of this is very important. I got what's important."


    Thousands of San Diego's evacuees headed to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers football team.

  • SANDRA PIKE, Southern California Resident:

    You feel very confident nobody's breaking into the cars, nobody's, you know, bothering anyone. Everybody has a smile, and everybody's trying to help.


    Many camped out in the corridors around the field. Outside the stadium, volunteers offered evacuees an assortment of food and clothing.

  • PHILLIPE JEAN LOUIS, Southern California Resident:

    I've been here all morning, since about 12:00, between 12:00 and 1:00, been here just unloading the truck and food over here, myself and a couple of other volunteers just trying to make it happen for everybody else who's in need right now.


    Where does this stuff come from?


    You have a lot of stuff coming from Ralph's. You have stuff coming from Wal-Mart, Vons. I mean, a lot of people bringing in their own personal stuff that they have saved up, canned foods, and other foods they have saved up at home. So you have a lot of volunteers donating stuff.


    With communities throughout the San Diego area under mandatory evacuation orders, the Qualcomm Stadium was just one of the places people came to for refuge.

    Last night in the community of Poway, north of San Diego, many found safety in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Since this part of the county mixes suburbia with rural living, some came with their horses and livestock.

    How many horses do you have?

  • DWIGHT KRAICH, Southern California Resident:

    It's just the one. This is my daughter's. She's in Australia, and it's the only thing she wanted me to save.


    And did you save anything else?


    Doesn't matter. I've got me and the horse and my wife, and that's all I care.


    At another evacuation site in the town's community center, some residents were philosophical, given their experience with past wildfires. Kameron Wong lost a home in the region's last major blaze in 2003.

  • KAMERON WONG, Southern California Resident:

    We lost a house in Julian, and that's the second house, but that house was totally burned down. So this is the second time.


    So what must go through your mind going through this a second time?


    Well, we kind of, you say, oh, that's probably life. I mean, what can you do about it?


    With so many people gone, many San Diego-area neighborhoods and business districts look like ghost towns. Meanwhile to the north, smaller fires merged into a larger one, and at least 160 homes were destroyed in the mountain community of Lake Arrowhead east of Los Angeles.


    The backfires are just trying to burn off some of that fuel so the fire doesn't get to the structures.


    Hundreds more homes and businesses from the mountains to the shores of Malibu were burned to the ground. Aircraft loaded water from area reservoirs and doused flames. There was also new visual evidence on just how fast the fire spread. NASA released two photos taken Sunday, the day the fires started, one just after the first blaze began, the other three hours later.

    Weary firefighters in Southern California are stretched to the limits, and relief is on the way.

  • DEP. CHIEF STEVE HEIL, Cal Fire, San Diego:

    There's a huge demand for resources. And the Harris fire still has outstanding resource orders for additional fire engines, hand crews, bulldozers, and aircraft.


    Crews are arriving from surrounding states, including Washington and Nevada. Some Air National Guard troops from North Carolina are also en route. About 1,500 National Guard personnel, including 200 diverted from the Mexican border, have come in to provide logistical support and security.


    It's the largest ever evacuations that we've ever had in California.


    Federal aid is on its way, as Homeland Security Department officials departed for the region this morning.

  • MICHAEL CHERTOFF, Homeland Security Secretary:

    We have been moving cots, blankets, other supplies into the area of San Diego so that we can handle any necessity for additional sheltering capacity. We've also moved air assets to be poised to take flight when we do have the opportunity to deal with the fire, once the winds begin to die down. And we're going to continue to move supplies and assistance in the area.


    The National Weather Service reported those strong winds and high temperatures won't subside until tomorrow evening.

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