Wildfires Scorch Southern California

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Rick and Kelly DeGraw struggle to keep from being blown over by the wind. i

Rick and Kelly DeGraw struggle to keep from being blown over by the wind that toppled their fifth-wheel trailer as they drove on the I-210 freeway in Fontana, Calif. They were trying to reach a safe location from fires and high winds, but were quickly caught by the wind. In the distance, a plume of smoke blows down from a major wildfire near Lake Arrowhead. David McNew/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption David McNew/Getty Images
Rick and Kelly DeGraw struggle to keep from being blown over by the wind.

Rick and Kelly DeGraw struggle to keep from being blown over by the wind that toppled their fifth-wheel trailer as they drove on the I-210 freeway in Fontana, Calif. They were trying to reach a safe location from fires and high winds, but were quickly caught by the wind. In the distance, a plume of smoke blows down from a major wildfire near Lake Arrowhead.

David McNew/Getty Images

Wildfires fanned by fierce desert winds consumed huge swaths of bone-dry Southern California Monday, burning dozens of buildings and threatening hundreds more from Malibu to San Diego, including a jail, a hospital and nursing homes. Wind gusts were reported at speeds ranging from 30 mph to more than 60 mph.

So far, about a dozen wildfires have forced thousands to flee their homes and scorched more than 40,000 acres.

At least one person was killed near San Diego, and four firefighters and at least 10 other people were hospitalized. Some of the injured were hikers and others may be illegal immigrants, said California Department of Forestry spokesman Matt Streck.

Overwhelmed firefighters said they lacked the resources to save many houses.

"We have more houses burning than we have people and engine companies to fight them," San Diego Fire Captain Lisa Blake said.

"A lot of people are going to lose their homes today."

Nearly 250,000 people were forced to flee in San Diego County, where hundreds of patients were being moved by school bus and ambulance from a hospital and nursing homes, sheriff's spokeswoman Susan Knauss said.

The fire also forced the evacuation of the entire community of Ramona, which has a population of about 36,000. Several structures were burned on the edge of town, and sheriff's deputies called residents to alert them that the fire was approaching the city, said San Diego sheriff's Lt. Phil Brust.

Winds Fan Flames

Several new fires began Monday in San Diego County, and firefighters were on high alert as the hot, dry Santa Ana winds continued to fan the flames.

"The winds are up. It's very, very dangerous conditions," San Diego County spokeswoman Lesley Kirk said. "Fires are popping up all over the place."

Firefighters said the enormity of the fires has been overwhelming.

"You do not expect something to stretch our resources to this magnitude," Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Sam Padilla said. "To try and staff something this big, you cannot predict it."

Governor Declares Emergency

About a dozen blazes have burned more than 40,000 acres from north of Santa Barbara to San Diego. Late Sunday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in seven Southern California counties.

One fire burned more than 14,000 acres in a region about 70 miles southeast of San Diego, just north of the Mexican border town of Tecate, Streck said.

In Orange County, a 1,049-inmate jail was being evacuated because of heavy smoke, sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. Inmates were being bused to another facility in Irvine.

In Malibu, about 700 firefighters worked to protect hundreds of homes in several upscale communities nestled in the hills. About 1,500 people were evacuated, and the blaze destroyed a church and several homes, one of them the landmark Castle Kashan, a fortresslike home with turrets and arched windows.

The castle belonged to Lilly Lawrence, the daughter of a former Iranian oil minister. She said she was able to gather a few things before the fire engulfed her home, including some jewelry and memorabilia that included Elvis Presley's Army fatigues.

She didn't seem too worried about losing most of her belongings in the fire.

"My parents taught me not to allow my possessions to posses me," Lawrence told KABC-TV. "So, that's the story. The house is a house."

Winds carried embers across the Pacific Coast Highway, closing the popular road and setting fire to cars and trees in the parking lot of a shopping center where a supermarket, drug store and other shops were damaged.

In all, five homes and two commercial buildings were confirmed lost throughout the Malibu area, Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said. Nine more homes were damaged, he said.

The fire is expected to burn for another two to three days, he said. Until the blaze is extinguished, "there will literally be thousands of homes that will be threatened at one time or another," he said.

The fire may have been started by downed power lines, Capt. Mike Brown said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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