Wildfires fanned by fierce desert winds were moving with frightening speed across huge swathes of southern California. In San Diego County alone some 250,000 people were told to leave their homes. One person has died and several more have been injured. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called on 1,500 National Guard troops to help firefighters and has asked the Pentagon for planes.
He said: “Thousands of buildings have been threatened, we’ve been evacuating residents in harm’s way. And extremely heavy winds and dry conditions makes it very hard to get these fires under control.”
At least 13 fires were burning unchecked over the lower half of the state and around 500 houses have been destroyed. One of the worst hit area was upmarket Malibu, where several buildings, including a castle and church were reduced to ashes. One resident said: “It was just like one big inferno. We’re just waiting for that knock on the door. We knew it was coming so we were more or less prepared but you’re never really quite prepared for when you’re coming down the hill, so it was scary.”
The high winds – including gusts of over 120 kilometres an hour – are hampering firefighters, who are unable to use their fixed-wing planes to battle the flames.