State of emergency declared in California

Monday, October 5, 2009

Los Angeles - A wildfire spread across San Bernardino County near Los Angeles on Sunday, prompting California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to proclaim a state of emergency in the area.

Fanned by wind gusts of up to 40 mph, the so-called Sheep Fire has burned over 1 417 hectares, destroyed several homes and caused the mandatory evacuation of residents at the mountain city of Wrightwood about 96 kilometers, according to the United States Forest Service.

The circumstances of this wildfire "require the combined forces of a mutual aid region or regions to combat," Schwarzenegger said, while declaring the emergency to free up state resources to battle the fire.

More than 1 000 firefighters are on the ground, many of them concentrated on newly-built fire lines scratched into nearly-vertical mountains on the eastern edge of Wrightwood.

Although airplanes like the DC-10 and the Martin Mars seaplane were used to control the fire on Saturday, gusty winds kept them grounded early Sunday.

"The fire is erratic and unpredictable," said US Forest Service spokesman John Miller. "The fire spread greater than expected."

San Bernardino fire spokesman Mike Horton, in a mid-morning interview with ABC7, said they were currently concerned about Wrightwood, which was partly evacuated overnight.

Between 4 000 to 6 000 residents were ordered to evacuate and roads into the area were closed as people scrambled to evacuate household goods, horses, and themselves.

Wrightwood is in a large bowl, ringed on three sides by jagged mountain peaks. About 12.8 kilometers downwind from the fire is the Mountain High Ski Area.

Further downwind and west of this fire lies the unburned half of the San Gabriel Mountains, which was saved from another massive fire last month.

The fire broke out Saturday afternoon near Lytle Creek, a small community surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest.

Fueled by thick timber and bush, the fire pushed over hills and canyons by winds. The fire was estimated to be 10 percent contained at sunrise.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.