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Devastating fires still rage across S California
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Several major fires still raged across Southern California on Sunday as firefighters were working against time to contain the devastating blazes.

Firefighters work to put out a fire burning alongside a road near Carbon Canyon park in Brea, California November 16, 2008. Several major fires still raged across Southern California on Sunday as firefighters were working against time to contain the devastating blazes. [Xinhua/Reuters Photo] 

Aided by record November heat and low humidity in the past few days, the fires were burning large areas of land, destroying hundreds of homes, sending thousands fleeing for safety and testing the stamina and resources of weary firefighters.

In Orange County and neighboring counties near Los Angeles, separate blazes have merged into what is now called the Triangle Complex fire. On Sunday morning, the fire was completely out of control and already had burned 10,475 acres (about 4,242 hectares), damaged or destroyed about 150 homes.

Altogether about 3,500 homes are threatened and at least 10,000residents have been evacuated, firefighters said.

About 1,200 firefighters have assembled along fire lines to battle the most active blaze.

Firefighter Patrick Ochoa, a veteran of numerous major fires in Southern California, said he could recall no fire as difficult to fight as the Triangle Complex fire.

"Nothing has been as devastating in Orange County as this," he said. "This is horrendous."

In Sylmar of Los Angeles, another fire was 30 percent contained by Sunday morning after consuming 9,500 acres (about 3,847 hectares), according to authorities.

The fire burned some 500 units to the ground in a mobile home park. And authorities are now working to determine if anyone perished in the park.

The 500 mobile homes destroyed in Sylmar could make that fire the worst in terms of lost housing in the history of the city of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Police Department said Saturday that it had made five arrests in the fire zone, at least two of them on charges of looting, but none that were related to arson.

"We're not aware of anyone being questioned about the cause of the fire," said Capt. John Incontro.

In Santa Barbara County about 80 miles (128 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, firefighters still are battling a blaze in the Montecito area. The fire has destroyed a number of multimillion-dollar homes.

Across the region, at least 30,000 people were ordered out of their homes amid stinging smoke that blew through wind-ravaged canyons. Major freeways, including Interstate 5 and the 91 and 71 freeways, were closed, making escape tricky for some. Authorities are still advising travelers to check the radio for updated traffic conditions as more freeway closures are possible.

There has been no new loss of life reported due directly to the fire. On Friday, a 98-year-old man died while being evacuated in Santa Barbara. There were at least 11 injuries reported Saturday, including four firefighters in Riverside County who were briefly overtaken by flames, and five firefighters were injured in Sylmar.

This morning, calmer winds provided some relief to firefighters. The National Weather Service reported that Santa Ana winds gusted up to 39 mph in the Sylmar area in northern Los Angeles, much lower than the roughly 80 mph gusts that rapidly spread the conflagration.

But a wind advisory remained in effect for portions of the region through this morning.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to inspect the firefighting efforts in Orange County later on Sunday. He has declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Orange counties, adding to his previous declaration for Santa Barbara County.

(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2008)

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