October 14, 2008

Wind-Fueled Fires Burn San Fernando Valley

Twin wildfires raced through acreage north of California's San Fernando Valley, killing at least one person and destroying 49 structures, officials said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, warning residents that Santa Ana winds made the fires dangerous and unpredictable, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Monday's death raised to three the total number of fatalities officials blame on the recent string of wildfires.

The winds are so strong that embers were being blown as far as a quarter-mile and flames were 80 feet high, Los Angeles Country Fire Chief Michael Freeman told the Times.

"This fire has the potential to move from where it is now ... perhaps as far as Pacific Coast Highway," Freeman said Monday.

The Sesnon fire scorched more than 5,000 acres and 19 homes while the Marek fire near Lake View Terrace burned 5,300 acres, the Times reported.

Helicopter and Super Scooper air tankers were aiding the firefighters' ground attack, officials said, adding they were considering using the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention's DC-10 firefighting aircraft.

The fickle Santa Ana winds were forecast to whip up to 80 mph Tuesday, keeping conditions dangerous, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Roland Sprewell said.

"We are anticipating it's going to get down and dirty, as it did this (Monday) morning," he said.