LOS ANGELES (AP)– A wind-blasted wildfire tore through the city's northern foothills Saturday, devastating a large mobile home park, forcing a hospital to evacuate some patients and sending thousands of residents fleeing for safety.
The fire broke out late Friday in the foothill community of
Sylmar on the edge of the Angeles National Forest and quickly spread across
2,600 acres - more than 4 square miles - as it was driven by Santa Ana wind
gusting as high as 76 mph.
Dozens of homes were destroyed, officials said, and aerial
footage from television helicopters showed rows of houses gutted in just in one
Fire crews had to abandon a mobile home park that was
burning out of control.
"We have almost total devastation here in the mobile
park," Los Angeles Fire Capt. Steve Ruda said of the Oakridge Mobile Home
Park. "I can't even read the street names because the street signs are
At an evacuation center, Oakridge resident Wendy Vannenberg
said the park had about 600 residences, many of them housing senior citizens.
The same park had been evacuated during a fire last month.
"Last time I took all of my grandparents' things. They
had brought over them from Germany after World War II," said Vannenberg,
46. "This time, I didn't really grab anything. I don't know why."
Behind a fireline outside the mobile park, Jo Ordaz, 50,
anxiously waited to learn the fate of her three-bedroom home as ash-laden wind
gusts flicked branches from trees and rocked parked cars.
Ordaz and her daughter and a friend had grabbed only their
essential documents and a few photographs before evacuating.
"I'm just feeling devastated, I don't know," Ordaz
said, soot collecting in her ears and around the edges of the dust mask on her
face. "We're just waiting."
Fire officials estimated 10,000 people lived in the area
under mandatory evacuation in the Sylmar, Knollwood and Porter Ranch
communities. About 80 miles to the northwest, an 1,800-acre blaze in the Santa
Barbara community of Montecito had forced the evacuation of more than 5,400
homes and destroyed more than 110 homes.
The Los Angeles fire jumped two freeways, leading police to
shut them down and forcing evacuees to take surface streets.
"Near hurricane winds made it very difficult for
firefighters," Los Angeles Fire deputy chief Mario Rueda said.
The Los Angeles blaze threatened at least 1,000 buildings,
fire spokeswoman Melissa Kelley said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the fire brought down some
power lines and could cause rolling blackouts. He urged residents throughout
the city to conserve power.
Flames struck the edge of the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center
campus shortly after midnight, causing an electricity outage that forced
officials to evacuate two dozen critical patients. About 130 other patients
Several administrative buildings were damaged.
The hospital's power and backup generators failed, and
emergency room staff had to keep critical patients alive with hand powered
ventilators. Twenty-eight people, including 10 neonatal babies, were rushed out
by ambulance to another hospital.
"It was totally dark," said hospital spokeswoman
Carla Nino. "There was dense smoke."
Power was restored at the hospital after three hours.
Some people refused to leave their homes, grabbing water
hoses to defend their homes, but others left even before mandatory evacuation
orders were issued.
"I can see the smoke. It's terrible. I'm going to take
my dog and go," Dorothy Boyer told The Associated Press from her home late
One resident was hospitalized in serious condition with
burns over 60 percent of his body, Kelley said. Two firefighters were treated
for minor injuries.
More than 600 firefighters struggled to protect homes
threatened by flying embers. Because of the rough terrain in the forest, they
were relying on water-dropping helicopters to tackle flames. Authorities said
some aircraft were grounded during the night by the savage wind, but they
expected six airplanes and a dozen helicopters to attack the fire during the
Flying embers ignited sporadic spot fires and firefighters
were patrolling the evacuated neighborhoods "making sure these small fires
don't turn into big fires," Rueda said.
If the fire continues marching west, it could be slowed by a
fire break that resulted from a wildfire which burned about 14,000-acres near
Porter Ranch last month, authorities said. A second fire only a few miles away
had killed one person, torched 4,800 acres of land and destroyed about 40
The fire in Montecito started Thursday night, exploding
through dry brush and vast stands of oil-rich eucalyptus trees. About 800
firefighters were battling the fire at the wealthy, celebrity-studded enclave,
and they were expected to make significant progress through Saturday morning,
said Santa Barbara city fire spokesman John Ahlman.
"There's plenty of hot material still left out
there," he said. "But things could change in a hurry if the winds
Several multimillion-dollar homes and a small college
suffered major damage in Montecito, a quaint and secluded area that has
attracted celebrities such as Rob Lowe, Jeff Bridges, Michael Douglas and Oprah
The fire quickly consumed rows of luxury homes and parts of
Westmont College, a Christian liberal arts school, where students spent the
night in a gymnasium shelter.
"That whole mountain over there went up at once.
Boom," said Bob McNall, 70, who with his son and grandson saved their home
by hosing it down. "The whole sky was full of embers. There was nothing
that they could do. It was just too much."
Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said up to 200 homes may have
been destroyed or damaged.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
At least 13 people were injured in Montecito. A 98-year-old
man with multiple medical problems died after being evacuated, but it was
unclear if his death was directly related to the blaze, Santa Barbara County
Sheriff-Coroner Bill Brown said.
Montecito, known for its balmy climate and charming Spanish
colonial homes, suffered a major fire in 1977, when more than 200 homes burned.
A fire in 1964 burned about 67,000 acres and damaged 150 houses and buildings.
Thousands evacuate as fires destroy California homes
November 15, 2008