October 14, 2008

San Fernando Valley Fires Destroy Dozens of Homes, Kill 2

By Tony Castro, Susan Abram; Connie Llanos

Two Santa Ana-wind- driven fires on opposite ends of the San Fernando Valley raged out of control Monday night, destroying dozens of homes, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people and threatening to charge all the way to the ocean.

At least two deaths were blamed on the two blazes, which some 800 firefighters were battling on steep canyon hillsides from the Northeast Valley to Rocky Peak.

"It's like hell with the top off," said Sylmar resident Gary Weinberg, summing up the scene at one of a number of evacuation centers set up to handle evacuees.

In response to the combined 10,000 acres of damage, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, as fire officials warned of gusts that were expected to top 60 mph overnight and make the situation much worse.

"We're concerned because this fire has great potential to move from where it is now all the way down to the 101 Freeway and perhaps even across as far as the Pacific coast," said Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman.

Dozens of homes have gone up in flames - including more than 30 at two mobile-home parks in Lopez Canyon - and several freeways were closed, creating a traffic nightmare for anyone trying to leave the Valley on Monday evening.

The Sesnon Fire, which started on Oat Mountain northeast of Porter Ranch and had burned more than 5,000 acres to the west by late Monday, came on the heels of Sunday's Marek Fire, which firefighters had a handle on until the winds kicked up early Monday, eventually blackening 5,300 acres.

Fire officials were investigating the causes of both fires.

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