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Damage Increases from California Wildfires - 2003-10-28


California firefighters continue to battle wildfires that have taken 13 lives and destroyed at least 1,100 houses. There are 30,000 homes still threatened by the blazes.

The worst fires continue to burn near San Diego, where 11 of the deaths occurred and more than 500 homes have been destroyed.

Other wildfires are raging east of Los Angeles and in Simi Valley, a northwestern suburb.

For residents like one man, seeing the blazes at close range is frightening. "It's very smoky, ashes raining; it's had to breathe. It's scary," he said.

The thick smoke and fine white ash are creating a health hazard for those in the affected areas.

Firefighter Mike Vogt, who is battling a fire east of Los Angeles, says he and his colleagues are at the mercy of the weather. Monday, they were lucky. The winds subsided, letting firefighters set backfires to slow the flames.

"As of right now, the winds are calm and we're making good progress on putting lines in and doing some firing out. If that continues, we're going to have a handle on this fire," he said.

Forecasters say gusty Santa Ana winds will continue on and off for several days, however. The winds are fanning the flames and the hot, dry conditions have so far made containment difficult.

President Bush has declared a "major disaster" in California and has ordered federal aid for fire victims. California governor Gray Davis is asking that the process be streamlined to speed the grants and loans to those who have lost their homes or businesses.

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