Catastrophic fires blaze a path of destruction through Southland
In a swiftly moving catastrophe that seemed as familiar as it was shocking, Southern California once again was besieged by flame Saturday, from Orange County to Santa Barbara, with hundreds of homes consumed by three major wind-driven fires, including one of the most devastating blazes ever to strike the city of Los Angeles.


FOR THE RECORD:
Oakridge Mobile Home Park: An article in Sunday's Section A about the Southern California wildfires said that portions of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in Sylmar had burned in the 1992 Northridge earthquake; the earthquake was in 1994. —



At least 30,000 people were ordered to evacuate their homes amid smoke that blew like stinging fog through wind-ravaged canyons. Major freeways, including Interstate 5 and the 91 and 71 freeways, were closed, making escape tricky for some. More than 500 mobile homes were destroyed at a community in Sylmar; and about 100 houses and apartments were damaged or destroyed in Riverside and Orange counties. The numbers were expected to grow.

Authorities focused overnight on flames rapidly pushing northwest through Chino Hills State Park, where they posed a threat to neighborhoods in Carbon Canyon and Chino Hills. Officials ordered evacuations in the area.

Remarkably, there was no new loss of life reported. On Friday, a 98-year-old man died while being evacuated in Santa Barbara, where fire destroyed multimillion-dollar homes. There were at least 11 injuries reported Saturday, including four firefighters in Riverside County who were briefly overtaken by flames, and five firefighters were injured in Sylmar.

It was a day of record heat and low humidity throughout the region, with a high of 93 in downtown Los Angeles. A wind advisory remained in effect for portions of the region through this morning.

Fire erupted at about 9 a.m. in Corona, in Riverside County. Dubbed the Freeway Complex fire -- it started near the westbound 91 Freeway not far from the 71 Freeway -- the blaze damaged or destroyed 16 homes in Corona before following the Santa Ana Canyon into Orange County. It destroyed or damaged at least 30 homes in Yorba Linda, then spread to Anaheim Hills, igniting at least 10 homes and 50 apartments. By nightfall, it had scorched nearly 6,000 acres and was just 5% contained.

"The embers are falling miles ahead of the fire front," said Kris Concepcion, a battalion chief with the Orange County Fire Authority. "That's what is creating a lot of the problems, and the wind is a challenge."

One of those fires swept through the Cascade Apartments near Santa Ana Canyon Road in Anaheim Hills, a 250-unit complex set into a hillside, where apartments rent for as much as $2,000 a month.

By Saturday afternoon, a thick layer of smoke hung over the apartments. One resident huffed and puffed as he marched through it.

"I gotta get my dog out," he growled, without interrupting his stride. Wearing flip-flops, he slogged through puddles left by fire hoses and vanished into the haze.

Firefighter Patrick Ochoa, a veteran of numerous major fires in Southern California who was among the first responders to the Freeway Complex fire, said he could recall no fire as difficult to fight.

"Nothing has been as devastating in O.C. as this," he said. "This is horrendous."

In Yorba Linda, wind-driven embers ignited at least five homes on one block of San Antonio Road, and firefighters were struggling to keep the fire east of Fairmont Boulevard, which divides Yorba Linda roughly in half. Streets struck particularly hard by the fire included Hidden Hills Road, Mission Hills Lane and Stonehaven Drive.

A separate fire a few miles north in Brea severely damaged Brea Canyon High School, a continuation school.

More than 20,000 people were ordered to evacuate the Orange County burn area, sometimes under treacherous conditions. Bobby Johnson, 18, of Yorba Linda left on the 57 Freeway, driving through fire on both sides of the road. "It was a valley of flame," he said.

Portions of the 91, 71 and 55 freeways and the 241 toll road were closed, as were freeways in Los Angeles County, including portions of Interstate 5 and the 14 and 210 freeways.

The fire in Sylmar, known as the Sayre fire, began late Friday night and swept through the Oakridge Mobile Home Park, parts of which had burned after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The toll appeared to be the largest number of housing units lost to fire in the city of Los Angeles, surpassing the 484 residences destroyed in the 1961 Bel-Air fire.