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. Thousands flee California wild fires

by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (AFP) Oct 21, 2007
Firefighters battled into the night Monday to tame wildfires in California that sparked mass evacuations, drove Hollywood stars from their million-dollar homes and killed one person, authorities said.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in seven of California's southern counties late Sunday as firefighters battled the blazes, which started early that morning and burned all day, fanned by strong winds.

"Throughout the region more than 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares) have already burned and more areas are threatened. The wildfires have caused the loss of human life and serious injuries," his office said in a statement.

One person was killed and four firefighters were seriously injured while trying to protect a home from fire in Potrero, 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of San Diego, the fire department said.

At least another 13 people were injured elsewhere as at least 11 separate fires, according to reports, devoured tree-lined hillsides and filled the area with choking black smoke.

"They have burned a number of homes, businesses and other structures. Residents have been evacuated in dangerous areas," the governor's statement said.

Authorities ordered 36,000 residents of Ramona, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of San Diego, to evacuate as the flames approached the town, said a spokesman for the local sheriff's office.

Strong winds fed the flames which destroyed a church and other buildings, forcing thousands to evacuate, including entire neighborhoods in the exclusive seaside town of Malibu.

Homes of director James Cameron and "Grease" movie star Olivia Newton-John were among those evacuated, celebrity site TMZ.com reported.

The palm-lined town, around 30 kilometers west of Los Angeles, is home to celebrities including Sting, Mel Gibson, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Cher and Richard Gere.

"There's no clear direction of the fire. You're getting erratic winds and swirls," fire inspector Ron Haralson told CNN news on Sunday evening.

"We're getting gusts up to 60 miles (100 kilometers) an hour ... They die down for a little bit. But then we're getting spot fires, fires that start well ahead of the main body of the fire, embers landing on rooftops and trees."

He said the fires may have been caused by wind knocking over a power line.

Thousands of students at Pepperdine University were evacuated. Nearby, the Malibu Presbyterian Church and several private homes burned to the ground, and the coastal highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco was closed.

"I woke up around 5:30 this morning and had smelled smoke and I saw some lights on Malibu Canyon Road," Malibu resident David Masi told NBC4 television. "I kept smelling it and the smoke kept getting more and more pervasive."

The blaze also destroyed much of the Malibu Castle, known as Castle Kashan, a hilltop landmark built in 1978 and put up for sale in March for 17 million dollars.

Southern California has been on "red alert" over the weekend due to the high winds, temperatures of near 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and dry conditions.

Haralson said late Sunday the blazes were not contained and firefighters would battle them through the night. Some 1,500 firefighters were deployed and helicopters were dumping water on the blazing ground.

"We have a lot of resources that are assisting and they're all being utilized at this moment," he told the television station Channel 2.

Schwarzenegger's office said the emergency proclamation allows the state Office of Emergency Services to deploy emergency personnel and equipment and provide local government assistance.

Officials warned the fires may continue for several days while the high winds keep up.

"This fire's been very erratic and it has moved rapidly when it has moved with the winds," Los Angeles county fire chief Michael Freeman told reporters.

"The fact that it's kind of come down below the ridge line up there has given us an opportunity to really work hard on it. But this fire is not over. It's not over until it's over and we're a long way from there."

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Protestors condemn govt over Greek fires
Athens (AFP) Sept 4, 2007
More than a thousand people demonstrated in Athens Tuesday against the government's management of Greece's deadly forest fires, hours after firefighters scrambled to put out the latest outbreak.

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