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Fires Rage in Southern California, 250,000 Evacuated

At least one person is dead and tens of thousands have been evacuated from their homes in Southern California, where fires have scorched more than 40,000 hectares and firefighters are battling at least 13 major blazes. Mike O'Sullivan reports, high winds and low humidity are hampering the effort.

With fires raging from the Mexico border through Los Angeles and northward to Santa Barbara, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in seven counties Sunday night. Monday, he called this a tragic time for the state.

The fires, fanned by desert winds called Santa Anas, are being fueled by tinder-dry brush following a hot summer and record drought.

A number of homes were burning Monday near Lake Arrowhead, in a mountain resort area.

Some of the worst damage was in the seaside community of Malibu, west of Los Angeles, where 1,500 people were evacuated. Fires swept through more than 900 hectares and destroyed at least five homes and a church.

Governor Schwarzenegger spoke with reporters after touring Malibu Monday, and said he hoped for a change in the weather.

"We have to just pray that the wind slows down because the wind is our number one enemy right now, and the dry weather," said Schwarzenegger. "So we hope that these weather conditions change as quickly as possible."

Near San Diego, 250,000 people were being evacuated from their homes, and San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders issued an appeal to residents.

"We are asking people to stay off the roads, to stay at home," said Mayor Sanders. "If you are in an area that could be affected, please pack your car and be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice. If you are nervous at all, please evacuate and go to one of the evacuation centers."

Fierce Santa Ana winds, which can gust higher than 100 kilometers per hour, are not expected to die down for several days, and California officials are requesting aid from neighboring states.