Wildfires engulf Southern California As many as 1 million flee as almost 500,000 acres burn

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007 :Massive wildfires have engulfed large swaths of southern California in the US, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and seek refuge in stadiums and other safe locations. As of the writing of this report, state officials and news agencies estimate that between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people have been forced to evacuate as a result of fires that began on Sunday.

The natural disaster prompted California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency in seven counties all the way from Santa Barbara, which is about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, to San Diego, about 150 miles south of LA. An estimated 500,000 acres—an area two times larger than New York City—have gone up in flames.

In San Diego County alone, which is located near the US border with Mexico, officials ordered residents in approximately 346,000 homes to evacuate for their safety. The magnitude of the civilian evacuation is the largest in the United States since the Civil War.

Thousands of homes and buildings have been laid waste, sending large amounts of smoke and ash into the atmosphere. Thus far, there have been six fire- and evacuation-related fatalities reported, although those numbers may rise once emergency personnel are able to reach areas currently engulfed in flames. Six firefighters have been hospitalized.

At least 16 separate fires have been reported as of Monday, with the most ferocious located in Aqua Dulce, a relatively wealthy area north of Los Angeles. Those forcing the mass evacuations in San Diego County are the Witch, McCoy, and Coronado Hills fires. All of the fires are continuing to spread, with state officials saying that containment will not be possible for many more days.