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Residents of California Evacuate as Fire Rages


Thousands of people have been evacuated in Sylmar, California, as a wildfire scorched over 1,050 hectares. As we hear from Mike O'Sullivan, there are no reports of injuries, but the flames, driven by gusting winds, have destroyed dozens of structures.

Winds gusting as high as 120 kilometers per hour fanned the flames through the community of Sylmar, a northwestern suburb of Los Angeles on the edge of the Angeles National Forest. Nearby neighborhoods were evacuated, and large sections of one, consisting of mobile homes, have been destroyed. Some critically ill patients were removed from one hospital as its power failed.

The fire started Friday night and by early Saturday, authorities had closed several major highways after the flames jumped over them. The blocked freeways include Interstate 5, which links Southern and Northern California.

Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the flames were threatening his city's electrical power lines, and that in terms of property damage, this is the worst wildfire in the region in recent years.

"We know that we've lost dozens of structures," he said. "We can't give you an exact number, but it's certainly more than we've lost over the last decade."

Authorities say the blaze is threatening more than one thousand structures.

Los Angeles Fire Department deputy chief Mario Rueda says firefighters are battling the flames in two ways.

"It's always a strategy of both offensive and defensive," he said. "In this case, the defensive part is putting firefighters directly ahead of those structures, directly ahead of that flaming front."

He says the offensive strategy involves the use of bulldozers to clear brush from the path of the fire, and aircraft to drop flame retardant from the sky.

Firefighters to the west of Los Angeles were still battling a separate wildfire that destroyed more than 100 homes near Santa Barbara. Thirteen people were injured in that fire, and an elderly man died after being evacuated.

Investigators are trying to determine the cause of both blazes, which are fueled by dry conditions and hot desert winds called Santa Anas.
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