Tens of thousands of locals in Southern California from the Los Angeles area to San Diego have been forced out of their homes in an effort to escape the massive wildfires that have ravaged the region. Thus far, fires have damaged more than 490,000 acres – or 765 square miles.
The origin of the fires is suspected to be arson, but the powerful Santa Ana winds have carried the flames an enormous distance. The Santa Ana winds are warm, dry winds that typically blow through Southern California during fall and early winter. In order for winds to be categorized as Santa Anas, they must blow out of the east or northeast at speeds greater than 29 miles per hour. They sometimes accelerate to 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 70 miles per hour. Although not just one circumstance has been proven to cause the Santa Ana winds, a high pressure region over the Great Basin - a plateau west of the Rocky Mountains and east of the Sierra Mountain range – provides a widely accepted explanation.
To date, about 1800 homes have been lost. Eighty percent of those are reported in San Diego County, with property damages exceeding $1 billion. President Bush visited the region on Thursday with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He promised residents they could count on the federal government’s help and support throughout their recovery process.
“We want the people to know there's a better day ahead — that today your life may look dismal, but tomorrow life's going to be better,” the President said.
On several occasions, border patrol agents have found charred remains near the Mexican border. Many of the remains are believed to be of migrant workers living in desolate camps in the woods. The death toll has climbed to 12 following the most recent discovery, and more than 60 people have reportedly been injured. Most residents had early enough warning to escape with their families and pets to local shelters. Authorities were issuing reverse-911 warnings, in which an automated call-back system sends out repeated calls to area residents during the evacuation period.
Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego has been sheltering thousands of evacuation victims of San Diego County, the area hardest-hit by the wildfires. The good news is that the fires in the vicinity have been contained enough that most residents have returned home. For a period of time, it was questionable whether the San Diego Chargers would play their home game on Sunday. It has since been determined that game will go on.
San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders released a statement earlier today. “Early Friday morning the Chargers informed me that the NFL has decided to play Sunday's game as scheduled at Qualcomm Stadium,” he said. “The City will be able to provide sufficient public safety personnel to manage a professional football game without impeding ongoing wildfire recovery efforts.”
Though the San Diego region is beginning to return to normal, the threat of fire looms over another. Orange County’s Silverado Canyon incurred a massive, erratic fire this afternoon. Fortunately the rural community’s 750 homes have so far been spared.
Firefighters and rescue workers continue to work around the clock in an attempt to contain the fires, while authorities are still investigating the cause of the blaze.