Wildfires Rage North of Los Angeles

October 15, 2008

With savage winds subsiding overnight, firefighters on Tuesday contained 70 percent of one of the three major wildfires that have charred more than 25 square miles, destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes in Southern California.

Just 12 hours earlier, the Marek fire in the northeastern San Fernando Valley had been only 5 percent contained. Still, firefighters worried that the ferocious winds would return to the area. In some parts of the valley, Santa Ana winds were gusting to 50 mph, fire officials said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties yesterday.

“The two fires spread down from the northern fringes of the San Fernando Valley fueled by the onset of this year’s Santa Ana winds,” said Dr. Tomas Girnius, research scientist at risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide. “With 60 mph gusts acting as a natural bellows, the fires so far have destroyed about 50 structures, and burned about 15,000 acres of land. A third fire broke out on Tuesday morning, in Camp Pendleton in San Diego county, scorching another 3,000 acres.”

Blasts of wind shook cars and nearby buildings, bent trees, snapped limbs, and threw around loose objects, while across the horizon smoke billowed up, white at its edges and black and red at its core. “The winds on Monday were so strong that embers were being blown a quarter mile away and flames arched up 80 feet,” commented Dr. Girnius.

The origin of neither major fire is known. “The tinder-dry vegetation in the area continues to be a major problem in attempting to contain the Sesnon fire,” Girnius said. “However, the ridge of high pressure that has dominated the weather of the region is expected to start weakening today and shift east. Winds should slowly diminish tonight into Wednesday morning as a result, assisting the efforts of the firefighters.”

Sources: AP, Air Worldwide

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