Firestorms destroy homes in Southern California

CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — Fleets of helicopters and airplanes roared through Southern California canyons Tuesday, dropping water on erratic, wind-blown wildfires that have burned 95 houses and injured six firefighters.
Helter-skelter Santa Ana winds turned dry brush and oil-rich eucalyptus trees into blowtorches, spreading flames across 35,000 acres. By Tuesday afternoon, the major fires were less than half contained and some flared up again as the devil wind shifted and gusted up to 41 mph.
Six firefighters working a flare-up in the Malibu fire were hurt, and three of them were airlifted to a hospital burn unit after their truck stalled and flames roared over them in Corral Canyon.
“This is life threatening. These are very serious burns,” Glendale fire Marshal Dave Starr said. One of the firemen had burns to more than 60 percent of his body and airway damage, another had serious burns on his arms and hands, and a third was in fair condition with superficial burns that may require surgery.
Another firefighter broke his neck in a traffic accident while rushing to a blaze, and a civilian in Carlsbad suffered burns to more than 45 percent of his body.
Thousands of people fled their homes, schools and businesses in four counties Monday as flames exploded, propelled through the canyons by winds that gusted as high as 71 mph.
By Tuesday, many were learning the worst.
“I saw the news and they were standing in the rubble of our home,” said Lou Stark, who lost his Carlsbad home. His wife wasn’t sure. “She said, ‘Maybe it’s not ours.’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s ours.’ “
Carlsbad was the site of the worst fire, a fast-moving blaze that burned at least 60 houses and 10 other structures over 8,592 acres in the 65,700-resident suburb on northern San Diego County’s seashore.
Just east of Carlsbad, authorities ordered evacuations early Tuesday for parts of San Marcos, a retirement community of 42,800 people.
In the celebrity seashore enclave of Malibu in Los Angeles County, flames charred 13,650 acres and destroyed five houses and a mobile home, and more than 1,000 people were evacuated during the height of the fire Monday.
Actress Shirley MacLaine said defending her home has become routine in the disaster-prone city. “I do think they ought to change the area code, though, and make it 911,” she quipped.
A fire that hop-scotched through the exclusive Lemon Heights section of Orange County on Monday destroyed and damaged 29 homes.
Marine volunteers were sent from Camp Pendleton to help the firefighters. Huge air tankers bombed the flames with water sucked from the ocean and reservoirs, joined by cargo-hauling helicopters fitted with big water tanks.
Eleven aircraft made repeated flights near Malibu, including two Air National Guard C-130s, each dumping 27,000 pounds of fire retardant.
“As soon as the sun came up we were dropping water,” said Steve Alvarez of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Gov. Pete Wilson declared a state of emergency in San Diego County. A similar declaration, letting the state reimburse local governments for firefighting, was expected for Los Angeles County.
The blazes started Monday as the seasonal Santa Ana wind whistled from the high desert down through Southern California’s canyons. On Tuesday, the wind eased in places, although steady 25 mph winds were likely through Wednesday morning.
Near Malibu, Latigo Canyon resident Scott Halley joined about a dozen neighbors on a canyon rim Tuesday to watch the air show.
“The gnarly thing is those wires,” Halley said as one helicopter swept within feet of power lines at the bottom of the flame-filled canyon. “You hit those things and you’re history,”
Flames made repeated runs at the Latigo Canyon home of rocker Axl Rose, but firefighters saved the home. Neighbor Jeff Harris, who lost a house in a firestorm three years ago, watched appreciatively.
“After all the people of Malibu lost their homes three years ago, I’m really happy about that fact,” Harris said.