Thursday, November 20, 2008
The recent wildfires in Los Angeles, California, have burned more than 42,000 acres (17,000 hectares) of land. Nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed, and more than 10,000 residents were evacuated.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed concerns that Los Angeles was on the verge of a blackout, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared the situation a state of emergency. In terms of property damage, this fire is the worst since the Bel Air fire in 1961. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky stated, “Whether you live in a mobile home park or you live in an estate, when you lose your home it’s devastating.”
In Montecito, a census-designated place in Santa Barbara County, the homes of many celebrities, including Steven Spielberg, Steve Martin, Eric Schmidt, and Rob Lowe, have been destroyed. This massive fire has caused millions of dollars of damage and 13 injuries. Rob Lowe declared that “it was just like Armageddon.”
According to one official, the fire started when ten students lit a bonfire on a ridge but failed to extinguish it. Although Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown believes that “this fire was the result of carelessness, not criminal intent,” the county district attorney will still have to review the case.
Santa Ana winds with gusts up to 70 mph exacerbated the Montecito fire, which destroyed over 100 buildings and damaged many others, including Westmont College. The college’s 1000 students were forced to take shelter in the gymnasium.
A spokesman for the college, Scott Craig, described the scene: “I saw flames about 100 feet high in the air shooting up with the wind just howling. Now when the wind howls and you’ve got palm trees and eucalyptus trees that are literally exploding with their hot oil, you’ve got these big, red hot embers that are flying through the sky and are catching anything on fire.”
Officials now report that firefighters are making some progress. Of the three major fires, the Montecito Tea Fire is 95% contained; the Sayre Fire, 70%; and the Triangle Complex Fire, 75%. Officials have lifted the evacuation order for Chino Hills as well.