Thousands flee California wildfires

Raging wildfires in California have forced thousands of people to flee their homes and destroyed hundreds of properties ranging from luxury mansions to mobile homes.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared states of emergency in five counties across the south of the state – Orange, Riverside, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino

Residents in and around the affected regions have also been warned to stay indoors to avoid breathing in potentially harmful particles in the air.

Speaking at the weekend, the Governor said: “This is usually what happens at that time of the year when we have the perfect storm, which means basically we have high winds, we have high temperatures and it’s very, very dry.”

More than 50,000 people are believed to have been evacuated from their homes and tens of thousands of acres of land have been ravaged by the flames.

Hundreds of firefighters have been deployed across the affected areas to tackle the blazes, and several have been injured.

“The people of Southern California have gone through some tough days these last few days and our hearts are going out to them, especially to those that have lost property and have injuries,” Governor Schwarzenegger said.

“There are a lot of firefighters that got injured in those fires all over Southern California and we want to make sure that they recuperate as quickly as possible.”

On Monday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) – the air pollution control agency for much of the area affected by the wildfires – warned that sea breezes could spread smoke across large areas, seriously affecting air quality.

In a statement, it said: “All individuals are urged to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary outdoor activities in any area directly impacted by smoke.”

California was also swept by serious wildfires last autumn, and the problem is expected to become more common as a result of changing weather patterns.

Captain Leonard Grill, of the Riverside County Fire Department, told reporters: “These used to be out-of-the-ordinary fires, one-in-a-career kind of fires. Now they’re every year.”

Kate Martin

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