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Winds Die Down, Fires Still Burning In Southern Calif.

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Three major wildfires continue to burn around the greater Los Angeles area. Thousands of residents, mostly in Orange County, remain under evacuation orders. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says more resources are needed for state and local agencies.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're told it's another smoky day in Southern California. What have the skies looked like in Los Angeles, Renee?

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Well, smoky, yeah, that's exactly the word. You can look at the sky - over the weekend, there were some points which you could look at the sky and stare at the sun.

INSKEEP: And you could do that safely because there was so much ash in the air.

MONTAGNE: The sun looked like almost an eclipse.

INSKEEP: And that's, of course, because of the fires in Southern California. Nearly 900 homes have gone up in flames, many more still in danger. Nobody has died. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, there have been some close calls.

CARRIE KAHN: No place in Southern California was harder hit by the wildfires than the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in the L.A. suburb of Sylmar. More than 500 of the 600 mobile homes were wiped out. Not all of the owners have been accounted for, so yesterday a Los Angeles police officer did a roll call.

(Soundbite of roll call)

Unidentified Police Officer: 202.

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Unidentified Police Officer: Good. 323.

KAHN: He's calling out numbers of the mobile homes that used to be there, hoping residents gathered at the park's entrance will respond and can be checked off a list. Tracy Burns is one of the residents who is accounted for. She was asleep when a neighbor told her the flames were heading toward them. She lost her house and everything in it.

Ms. TRACY BURNS: Even when it was happening, I didn't think it was going to end like this. I thought there was - it was going to work out. But, you know, I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and I don't live anywhere. Pretty shocking.

KAHN: The fires that hit Southern California over the weekend were the worst that L.A. firefighters have ever seen. They're still talking about the 50-foot wall of flames that roared through the park and forced them to abandon the development. L.A. Deputy Fire Chief John Tripp says when he heard crews fled the park, he couldn't believe it and went back in to check for himself.

Deputy Chief JOHN TRIPP (Los Angeles County Fire Department): And when we went in there and that wall of flame hit our car, and our tires exploded on our car, we knew that call was the right thing. And the only thing that we could think of was thank God that our firefighters were getting out of there.

KAHN: After touring the park, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says it's time everyone recognizes that fire season in California is more dangerous and destructive.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): I think the last two years or so we have seen that this is not anymore a fire season in the fall, like we usually have had, but there is fire season all year round.

KAHN: Schwarzenegger says more resources are needed for state and local agencies, and building codes must be strengthened for all dwellings, especially mobile homes. In northern Orange County, strict building codes saved Roberto Perez's(ph) house, even though he says the precautions were costly.

Mr. ROBERTO PEREZ: Yes, yes, it's worth it, yeah. Insurance too. I mean, both. I mean, it's worth it, yeah, because you never know.

KAHN: His roof tiles are made of concrete, and he has flame-retardant stucco siding. Most of the homes in his development have indoor sprinkler systems. Perez didn't evacuate, even though he was surrounded by three separate blazes. Across the street, a strike team tosses dirt on some hot spots. Fire captain Don Toffelson(ph) said the newer homes are so fireproof that it's sometimes safer for residents to shelter in place than to evacuate. He says same goes for the firefighters.

Captain DON TOFFELSON (Fire Captain, California): If it really turns nasty, the firestorm, and we don't have time to get to the rig and get out of there, we'll go inside the structure. It'll blow over. We'll come back out and hit the hot spots.

KAHN: Clearly firefighters or residents didn't have that option at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in Sylmar. Yesterday as some of the homeowners gathered out in front of their devastated neighborhood, Los Angeles Fire Captain Steve Ruda presented them with an American flag he rescued from one of the burned homes.

Captain STEVE RUDA (Los Angeles Fire Department): And we felt that this flag belongs to all of you.

KAHN: Ruda said the badly burned flag should be a sign of hope for everyone in the park. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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