Major fires continue to burn in Southern California, in some cases fueling new fires. There are currently 15 fires burning 414,013 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The large number of separate fires has effectively diluted fire suppression activities and firefighters have thus far been largely ineffective in containing them. High Santa Ana winds, low humidity and high temperatures continue to fuel advancing flames, according to AIR Worldwide.
As of Tuesday afternoon, these blazes, which number more than a dozen and are burning in seven counties, had destroyed nearly 1,500 homes and businesses, forced some 300,000 residents to evacuate their homes, and burned approximately 260,000 acres — more than 400 square miles.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it is mobilizing federal resources and assets in coordination with the state of California and other federal agencies. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA Administrator David Paulison traveled to the affected area yesterday to meet with state officials and asses the federal response to the wildfires. President George W. Bush is expected to visit the area on Thursday.
In addressing his Cabinet this morning, Bush said the following: “Looking forward to going out to California tomorrow. We’ll continue to make sure that our efforts are coordinated, that we are responsive to the needs and people. And most importantly, I want the people in Southern California to know that Americans all across this land care deeply about them, we’re concerned about their safety, we’re concerned about their property, and we offer our prayers and hopes that all will turn out fine in the end. In the meantime, they can rest assured that the federal government will do everything we can to help put out these fires.”
“Our priority is to support federal, state and local responders in critical life saving and life sustaining missions that protect people from the multiple wildfires,” said FEMA’s Paulison. “We have many resources on the ground and are deploying additional assets to assist the thousands who are displaced from their homes as a result of the fires.”
As of press time, San Diego County faces the most severe conditions. More than 250,000 residents there have been evacuated, some 10,000 of them to Qualcomm Stadium. In northern San Diego, the Witch Fire has destroyed 600 homes and businesses and threatens nearly 7,000 buildings in its path. It is moving quickly westward on a 20 mile path from its rural origins near Ramona, Calif., to the more populated San Diego city limits.
Elsewhere in San Diego, the Rice Fire in Fallbrook has destroyed 500 residences. The Harris Fire, which has already burned 200 homes, threatens 2,000 more, as well as 500 commercial properties. Officials worry that the Harris Fire will spread to San Miguel Mountain, the site of important communication towers. They also fear that spreading flames will advance from their current position, inland along the mountains, to the Pacific Ocean.
Major fires are also burning in Los Angeles County, where some 2,900 firefighters have made minimal headway containing them. And new fires are cropping up. Early Tuesday, officials reported a fresh fire on the La Jolla Indian Reservation. It has consumed 1,000 acres, destroyed several structures and forced the evacuation of more than 1,500 people.
“With more than 1,000 homes destroyed so far, the fires of 2007 are not yet as severe as those of 2003, when the Cedar Fire alone destroyed more than 2,200 homes and resulted in insured losses estimated at $1.2 billion,” said Glen Daraskevich, vice president of research and modeling at AIR Worldwide. “However, many of the current fires burn unabated and the potential exists to exceed the Cedar Fire both in terms of the number of structures destroyed and total insured losses.”
The following wildfires have yet to be contained, as tallied by AIR Worldwide:
*Harris Fire in San Diego County
-Burned 70,000 acres
-Destroyed 200 homes
-Threatens 2,000 homes and 500 commercial properties
-Evacuated 3,000 people
*Rice Fire in San Diego County
-Burned 6,100 acres
-Destroyed 500 homes
-Threatens 2,500 homes
-Evacuated the town of Fallbrook
*Witch Fire in San Diego County
-Burned 164,000 acres
-Destroyed 500 homes, 100 commercial properties, and 50 outbuildings
-Threatens 5,000 homes, 1,500 commercial properties, and 300 outbuildings
-Highway 67 is closed from Poway to Ramona
*Buckweed Fire in Los Angeles County
-Burned 37,800 acres
-Destroyed 15 homes, 22 vehicles, and 17 outbuildings
-Threatens 55,000 homes in Santa Clarita and surrounding communities
-Evacuated 15,000 residents
*Magic Fire in Los Angeles County
-Burned 1,200 acres
-Threatens 900 homes
*Ranch Fire in Los Angeles County
-Burned 54,500 acres
-Destroyed 3 homes and 4 outbuildings
-Threatens 500 residences, 50 commercial properties, and 50 outbuildings
*Canyon Fire, Malibu in Los Angeles County
-Burned 3,800 acres
-Destroyed 6 homes and 2 businesses
-Threatens 600 homes, 200 commercial buildings, and 100 outbuildings
-Evacuated 500 homes
*Grass Valley Fire, Lake Arrowhead in San Bernardino County
-Burned 300 acres
-Destroyed 100 homes
-Threatens 1,500 homes
*Slide Fire in San Bernardino County
-Burned 1,500 acres
-Destroyed 20 homes
-Threatens 400 homes
*Santiago Fire in Orange County
-Burned 15,300 acres
-Destroyed 8 outbuildings
-Threatens 3,500 homes and 150 commercial properties
Sources: FEMA, White House, AIR Worldwide
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