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Calif. Wildfires Continue to Rage
Santa Ana Winds Fueling the Blazes

By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008; A14

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 14 -- Wind-whipped wildfires continued to burn through Southern California on Tuesday after scorching nearly 27,000 acres statewide, claiming two lives and forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

The worst of the three major blazes is a heavy brush fire speeding along the steep, dry terrain at Browns Canyon, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles. The Sesnon fire, which started Monday, nearly doubled overnight to 10,000 acres, forcing the evacuations of more than 2,000 homes. By Tuesday, it was "not at all contained," said Inspector Sam Padilla of the Fire Department.

But firefighters were gaining the upper hand on the second San Fernando Valley area fire. The Marek fire in Little and Kagal canyons was 70 percent contained after charring nearly 5,000 acres and 44 buildings and driving 1,800 people from their homes.

Along with heat and low humidity, the sporadic Santa Ana winds -- blowing for the first time this fall -- have fueled the fires, gusting at times up to 60 mph. The winds dwindled some on Tuesday, but the nearly 3,000 firefighters battling the two blazes braced for the gusts' return.

"Both fires are in very steep, hilly areas. They are loaded with a lot of old brush that hasn't burned," Padilla said. "And the wind is driving this, pushing it along."

Helicopters and other aircraft poured thousands of gallons of water on the southwest-moving blazes in hopes of protecting structures, Padilla said.

The wildfires have prompted Gov. to declare a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

On Monday, one person was killed in a collision as a fire neared the freeway; the body of another person, reportedly a transient living in a makeshift shelter, was found on a hillside in the area.

Schwarzenegger also said that the state's budget problems will not prevent it from providing all the resources needed to snuff out the blazes.

"Even though we have had budget problems in our state and we have an economic slowdown but we'll spare not one single dollar when it comes to fighting fires," Schwarzenegger said. "We're going to use all the money, even if we have to take it from somewhere else."

It cost California almost half a million dollars to fight fires last year that burned nearly a million acres.

A third major fire burned Tuesday at in San Diego. The blaze erupted Monday afternoon in the southeast area of the camp and blew northward, burning more than 3,000 acres by Tuesday morning and forcing the evacuations of two housing areas on the base, Cpl. Gabriela Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez could not confirm the number of people evacuated, but local media outlets reported that more than 4,000 people on and off the 125,000-acre base were removed.

By Tuesday, firefighters had contained 25 percent of the fire, with no injuries, deaths or destroyed buildings reported, Gonzalez said.

It was the second fire at the base in a week. An earlier fire charred 1,500 acres but was contained in a few days.

A grass fire also broke out Monday in Fallbrook along the northern edge of the base. That fire has consumed 700 acres and is expected to grow as afternoon winds pick up, said , spokesman for the North County Fire Protection District. About 75 homes have been evacuated.

The blazes have shut down schools and roads and forced people to hurriedly pack some belongings before fleeing to shelters. The causes of the fires are under investigation.

Smaller fires burned hundreds of acres this week in San Bernardino, near San Francisco and Campo, near the border with Mexico.

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