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Wildfires Continue To Burn, Force Evacuations In Southern California

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To another story now - a fast moving wildfire in Southern California that has destroyed dozens of homes, closed freeways and forced roughly 100,000 people to flee from its path. This fire broke out last night in the foothills north of Los Angeles. It's being fueled by strong Santa Ana winds and dry conditions. NPR's Nathan Rott reports that is making for a really difficult firefight.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Most of California was already on high alert. Wind forecasts were so high across the state this week that utility companies had preemptively cut off power to hundreds of thousands in Northern California and fewer here in the southern part of the state. The power was still on for homeowners on Saddle Ridge Road when Roberto Delgado heard his wife yelling.

ROBERTO DELGADO: There's a fire in back of the house. I turned around. I looked out the window. There was fire right at the bottom of that tower.

ROTT: A power line tower on a now blackened hillside not more than 150 yards from the back of Delgado's house.

DELGADO: That fire came down that hill so fast. It was just overwhelming.

ROTT: Delgado called the fire department and raced outside to spray down some of the bushes and trees at the back of his property.

DELGADO: That deck right there, I was on that deck. The fire - the flames were going over these brushes, over me, going over our house. Embers were just coming over our house, landing on top of our house.

ROTT: Those embers, thrown by gusting Santa Ana winds, leapt freeways and entire neighborhoods, pushing the fire, officials now say, to grow at nearly 800 acres per hour.

DELGADO: When we left here, we were in tears thinking our house is burning.

ROTT: It's a miracle, Delgado says, wiping floating ash from his eyes, that it didn't. Now tens of thousands of other homeowners are hoping for the same thing, with evacuation notices expanding westward, the direction the fire is being pushed by strong Santa Ana winds. Monica Rodriguez is the Los Angeles city councilwoman who represents this area.

MONICA RODRIGUEZ: Once again, these mandatory evacuation areas are going to remain in effect. And until they're lifted, residents will not be allowed back in these areas.

ROTT: The National Weather Service says dangerously high winds are forecast to continue in the area until tomorrow evening.

Nathan Rott, NPR News, Sylmar, Calif.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEVIN SHIELDS'S "IKEBANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.

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