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Monday, October 13, 2008

Southern California Fires Force Evacuation of UCLA Medical Center

Intense Santa Ana winds swept into Southern California on Monday morning and whipped up a 1,500-hectare wildfire, burning mobile homes and industrial buildings and forcing the evacuation of eight patients from a nearby hospital.

"This is what we feared the most," said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Mark Savage. "The winds that were expected, they have arrived."

The blaze, 30 kilometres north of downtown Los Angeles, began Sunday and was calm overnight, but flared up early Monday when winds gusting to 105 kilometres per hour moved in.

Ambulances were transporting eight patients on ventilators, including six newborns, from Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley to other hospitals as a precaution, spokeswoman Carla Nino said. The facility had about 180 patients left.

Fire Insp. Ron Haralson said the blaze had reached a mobile home park and an industrial area, but could not say how many structures had burned. The park was evacuated earlier Monday before flames reached it, he said.

Officials said the fire has burned 1,500 hectares and was about five per cent contained Monday morning. The cause of the fire was under investigation. One home was destroyed Sunday but no serious injuries were reported.

The fire sent about 1,200 people from their homes over the weekend. All remained evacuated Monday morning, when the winds arrived and marked the start of the region's serious fire season.

Meanwhile, fire officials said a second wildfire had broken out in the hills above the San Fernando Valley, prompting mandatory evacuations.

It is at two hectares but is growing quickly near Browns Canyon Road, a few kilometres north of Chatsworth.

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