Firefighters Make Progress in California as Winds Die Down

Fierce Santa Ana winds continued to subside overnight, allowing firefighters to make some progress in containing the turbocharged fires that forced thousands of Southern Californians to flee their homes.

Three separate fires from Orange County to Santa Barbara have destroyed more than 800 houses, mobile homes and apartments since Thursday night. In all, the fires have consumed more than 35,000 acres, often at incredible speed, thanks to 50- to 70-mile per hour winds.

Nearly 50,000 people have been evacuated from the fire areas since Thursday, but about half of those people were allowed to return to their homes. That leaves close to 25,000 people still homeless or displaced.

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More than 500 homes were destroyed in one trailer park, where many elderly people lived. Most were taken to a Red Cross shelter.

Ruth Kemke, 84, barely made it out of her mobile home and lost many of her prized possessions. Kemke packed everything she could into her 1973 Camaro, but with the power out, she couldn't get her garage door open.

"I had watched all the houses [burn] down, because the winds at that point were 70 miles an-hour, and it was like a blowtorch furnace,"Kemke told "Good Morning America."

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Firefighters rescued Kemke and her car, allowing Kemke to take some of her momentos, including her wedding album and husband's ashes.

The fire began Thursday in the exclusive enclave of Montecito, where celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Michael Douglas and Jeff Bridges own homes. While their estates escaped the blaze, actor Christopher Lloyd's $11 million home was devoured.

The "Back to the Future" and "Taxi" star walked through the wreckage and ash of his former home, shocked by the damage.

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"You watch TV, you see these kinds of incidents happening here and there, but you look with a kind of detachment because it's happening ... elsewhere, but suddenly to be in the midst of it, it's a very different awareness," Lloyd said.

Battling the flames across four counties has been a massive undertaking for the more than 3,500 firefighters and other rescue workers who have faced heat so intense it melted fire hoses.

"Their hoses were melted into the concrete. ... That is how hot the fires were," said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Steve Ruda.

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Michael Boyle, battalion chief of Orange County Fire Authority, said that the combination of the Santa Ana winds, drought and more homes located in brush areas were the recipe for this disaster.

Boyle also said it was difficult for firefighters to gauge which way the fire was moving.

"The wind is so intense, so dark and thick that it's difficult to often see where the fire is really at," Boyle said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Irvine Sunday, likened the fire damage to Armageddon, calling the firefighters "true action heroes."

"We have the most courageous, the toughest firefighters in the world,'' Schwarzenegger said.

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