Governor Declares Emergency In Wake of Wind-Fanned Fires
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Gov. George Deukmejian declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County, where flames fanned by Santa Ana ″devil winds″ destroyed at least 37 homes and blackened more than 3,350 acres.
″It was hitting so fast I thought my hair would catch fire, my clothing would catch fire,″ said Jane Cody, 41, whose house escaped damage from a wildfire that gutted 15 homes in the fashionable suburb of Porter Ranch Friday as winds gusted to 70 mph on the brushy hillside.
″All you could see was red. All you could feel was wind.″
Santa Ana winds calmed today, and firefighters had the blaze more than half surrounded.
The fire that burned more than 3,200 acres in the northwest San Fernando Valley was the third to ravage Southern California in two days. Two wind- fanned blazes Thursday burned 150 acres and destroyed 22 homes in the suburbs of La Verne and Baldwin Park.
By nightfall Friday, the winds relented and the fire slowed. The National Weather Service predicted winds would slow to 10 to 15 mph.
The fire, located in the Granada Hills area 25 miles northwest of downtown, was 60 percent surrounded Friday night as it spread slowly northward into vacant hills, said county fire spokesman John Lenihan. Full containment was expected today.
Deukmejian issued the emergency declaration Friday afternoon, enabling victims to apply for state aid. The order would also make a federal disaster declaration possible, but it was not known if one had been requested.
The San Fernando fire destroyed 14 houses and a mobile home, and damaged 25 houses, said fire spokesman Gary Svider. Damage was estimated at $4.3 million.
Forty-five firefighters suffered minor eye injuries from flying embers, and five firefighters and two civilians were treated for smoke inhalation, said city fire spokesman Jim Williamson.
The blaze began early Friday in Sunshine Canyon, then swept southwest in a blizzard of embers through the Santa Susana Mountains to Porter Ranch, where homes cost up to $500,000.
Residents awakened to choking smoke and an orange glow in the sky. Thousands fled their homes, but others stayed behind as long as they could.
″It was just like raining fire,″ said Tim Dinsmore, 16, who helped his father wet down the family home before they were forced to flee several blocks. The home was unscathed.
Fire officials wanted to question two men seen in the area in the hope they might provide clues on how the fire began, Williamson said. ″They are not suspects,″ he stressed.
Fire investigators photographed downed power lines at the Sunshine Canyon Landfill, where the fire was first reported, said landfill spokesman Mark Ryavec.
At the height of the blaze, eight water-dropping helicopters dived on the flames as 1,200 firefighters attacked on the ground and fire trucks guarded an oilfield installation.
Seventy horses from stables in the fire area were evacuated to Granada Hills High School, and classes were dismissed at many area schools.
″This is a tragedy, but when you think about it, it could have been much worse,″ Mayor Tom Bradley told reporters during a tour of burned areas. ″We are pleased with the expertise that was demonstrated here.″
Elsewhere, firefighters contained at midnight a 1,000-acre brush fire that broke out late Friday morning north of Lake Elsinore in rural Riverside County, state forestry officials said. The fire was expected to be under control by this afternoon, said foresty Capt. Mike Sowards.
The fire, which came within a couple hundred yards of four homes, was believed to have started accidentally, but its exact origin was unknown, said Battalion Chief Ted Pfeiffer.
The Santa Anas, which picked up strength in the area Wednesday, are caused by the flow of air from high pressure over the Western interior to low pressure offshore, picking up speed and warmth as they hurtle down from the desert through mountain passes into the Los Angeles Basin.