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Wildfires threaten California

LOS ANGELES - Southern Californians weathered a second straight day of devastation Saturday as wind-blasted wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes, shut down major freeways and forced thousands of residents in the path of flames to flee to safety.

A fire that ravaged the Sylmar community in the hillsides above Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley grew to 6,500 acres - more than 10 square miles - and was only 10 percent contained. It sent residents fleeing in the dark Saturday morning as notorious Santa Ana winds topping 75 mph torched cars, mobile homes and bone-dry brush.

'We have almost total devastation here in the mobile park,' Los Angeles Fire Capt. Steve Ruda said. 'I can't even read the street names because the street signs are melting.'

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, a day after he did so to the northwest in Santa Barbara County, where 111 homes burned to the ground Thursday night in the wealthy, star-studded community of Montecito.

And as many as 30 homes, some of them apparently mansions, burned in a fire in Orange and Riverside counties, officials said.

The Los Angeles blaze, whose cause was under investigation, threatened at least 1,000 structures, city Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Kelley said. A burned resident was in serious condition, and four firefighters were treated for minor injuries.

Fire officials estimated 10,000 people were under orders to evacuate. Among them were residents of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park, where about 500 trailers were lost to the flames. Many had housed senior citizens.

At an evacuation center, Lucretia Romero, 65, wore a string of pearls and clutched the purse and jacket she snatched as firefighters shouted at them to flee hours earlier.

Her daughter, Alisa, 42, wore a bloodstained shirt and pants. A helicopter dropping water on their home caused the entryway ceiling to collapse. Debris scratched her forehead and gave her a black eye.

They were optimistic that their home of 30 years survived because firefighters were there when they left. But the family cat, Doris,

was missing.

Lucretia Romero said she saw smoke above the hills beyond the front door and then, within an hour, saw that a canyon across from her home was red with flame.

'They would drop water, the water would squash the flames and then two minutes later the flames would come back,' she said. Firefighters soon banged on the door and gave them 10 minutes to evacuate.

Flames swept across the park and scorched cypress trees, Ruda said. Firefighters had to flee, grabbing some residents and leaving hoses melted into the concrete.

Ruda produced a burned U.S. flag on a broken stick as a sign of hope and bravery for firefighters. 'The home that this flag was flying from is gone,' he said.