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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 14:38 GMT
California fires rage out of control
Burnt-out car in San Diego
The fires have left a trail of devastation
At least 13 people are now known to have died in firestorms sweeping southern California - the highest number of people killed in wildfires in the state for more than a decade.

Raging for almost a week, the blazes have forced up to 50,000 people to flee and closed several main roads.

Among the victims were two people found dead in their car, apparently trying to escape a fire.

A state of emergency has been declared in Los Angeles, San Diego, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, where the Californian authorities are now battling fires on 10 separate fronts.

It has been truly a horrific experience.
Patti, San Diego, California

Outgoing state Governor Gray Davis has appealed for federal funds to pay for the massive emergency operation.

As high winds fanned the flames, officials said no end was in sight.

The blazes have crossed the international border into Mexico, while the evacuation of a key air traffic control hub in San Diego has disrupted national and international flights.


More than 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) have been destroyed and at least 800 homes reduced to ashes.

It is already the deadliest blaze in California since 1953, when 15 firefighters were killed trying to control a wildfire in Mendocino National Forest.

13 people killed
800 houses destroyed
30,000 homes under threat
300,000 acres consumed
7,000 firefighters deployed
The BBC's Robert Nisbet in San Bernardino county said the flames were travelling up to two-and-a-half miles (4 km) an hour and described the scene as "almost apocalyptic".

"We were literally running through fire," said Lisza Pontes, 43, who escaped a fire in San Diego county with her family after the roar of the flames woke them up.

Sheriff William Kolender said parts of the city of 1.2 million people were being evacuated and told residents "not to hesitate to pack your belongings and leave" if the fire came their way.

Looting reported

San Bernardino County, about 30 miles (48 kilometres) east of Los Angeles, has also been hit hard - with around 100,000 acres (40,470 hectares) destroyed.

The county's fire department said on Sunday the blaze was only 23% contained and had already caused more than $6m in damage.

Click below to see a detailed map of affected areas

Entire towns have been evacuated, including people in juvenile probation camps and airport employees, while sports events have been postponed.

At least 30,000 homes across the region are said to be at risk while there were reports of attempted looting.

Dozens of the 2,500 firefighters battling the blaze have suffered second degree burns, minor burns and smoke inhalation.

Air quality has been described as "horrific" and regional authorities have issued advisories urging people to limit or discontinue outdoor activities.

Major interstate highways have been closed and power lines are under threat, prompting state power grid operators to urge people to conserve energy.

The BBC's Robert Nisbet
"A few minutes to gather their belongings and escape"

In pictures: California fires
25 Oct 03  |  Photo Gallery

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