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Thousands Evacuated in California as Fires Approach Homes - 2003-10-24

Wildfires have forced thousands of residents from their homes in Southern California. The fires are approaching homes south and east of Los Angeles.

Police and fire officials told people to leave their houses in Rancho Cucamonga, 80 kilometers east of Los Angeles, and nearby Lytle Creek.

Authorities have closed the region's two major highways, Interstate 210, an east-west artery, and Interstate 15, the main route from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

They say the fire was started Tuesday by an unknown arsonist. Fire Captain Tom Conners said Santa Ana winds from the California desert made the blaze shift direction early Friday.

"Santa Ana winds came in late last night," he explained. "They were high level and around four o'clock this morning they turned the head of the fire. And it's actually done a 180 [degree turn]. It's come back on top of itself and it's come down into the foothills, bouncing into [approaching] the houses in here."

Fourteen-hundred firefighters are battling the blaze, which has scorched more than 1,500 hectares of the San Bernardino National Forest.

At least five homes have been destroyed in California fires. Three hundred homes were threatened in a blaze near Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base north of San Diego. Officials say that fire began on a training range, apparently sparked by military munitions.