Wind-Driven Wildfires North of Los Angeles Claim Two Lives


LOS ANGELES, California, October 13, 2008 (ENS) - Fanned by Santa Ana winds gusting to 70 miles per hour, a wildfire 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles has forced the evacuation of suburban homes in Lopez and Kagel Canyons.

The Marek fire has burned 4,726 acres of light brush with grass and chaparral since it started about 2 o'clock Sunday morning. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Tonight, fire officials say there are 1,290 firefighters battling the Marek fire in extremely difficult terrain at the northeast end of the San Fernando Valley, and hundreds more are fighting the 5,000-acre Sesnon Fire at the west end of the valley.

During the day nine water-dropping aircraft tried to put out the flames, but the fire is considered to be just five percent contained with "extreme" risk of growth.

A mandatory evacuation was established for Sylmar on the north and east interface, but not soon enough to save the life of a man found fatally burned in the Sylmar area. Officials believe he was a homeless transient.

Another man was killed in four-vehicle crash on the 118 freeway as cars were directed by police to use an on-ramp as an exit to escape the flames.

Mandatory evacuations are in place for Lakeview Terrace north of the 210 Fwy, the area east of the Pacoima Wash and the area north of the 210 Fwy from hillside to the 5 Fwy.

Olive View Hospital in the San Fernando Valley evacuated five patients to other hospitals, and 38 mobile homes were destroyed in the Valley View Estates this morning. One single family dwelling and garage has been destroyed in the Dexter Park area.

An evacuation center has been established at San Fernando High School, 1133 O'Melveny, in San Fernando. Another evacuation center has been set up at Sylmar High School, 13050 Borden Ave in Sylmar.

Local officials are asking everyone evacuated by the fire to visit the American Red Cross shelter at San Fernando High School to register their well being, even if they will not be staying at the shelter.

Further south in San Diego County, a wildfire that started on an explosives training range at Camp Pendleton forced the evacuation of a military housing area and 100 homes in Oceanside.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties due to wildfires.

"As fires burn across California, I want to commend all of the firefighters who are bravely battling these aggressive flames and the first responders who are helping their communities and fellow neighbors," the governor said.

"Winds are causing fire conditions to change by the hour, which is why it is so important that residents in the areas surrounding these wildfires heed warnings from public safety officials to evacuate," he said. "It's critical that everyone in the warning areas continue to be prepared. Know what you're going to take and be ready to move very quickly if the evacuation order comes in your area."

"The state is coordinating with federal and local officials to ensure that firefighters have the resources they need," Schwarzenegger said, "but with such a serious situation on our hands, we need residents to take every precaution to remain safe during this dangerous and difficult time."

For more information on either the Marek or the Sesnon fires call toll-free at: 1-800-439-2909.

{Photo: The Marek fire as seen from Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles (Photo by Noe M. Torres)}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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