L.A. Mayor: 'Devastation I've Never Seen'

For the fourth straight day, Southern California is burning, and low humidity and high temperatures continue to keep firefighters busy in hundreds of hot spots while thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes.

This morning an offshoot of the large fire that has raced through six communities in Orange and Riverside counties since Saturday spread north into the Los Angeles County city of Diamond Bar.

This largest of the fires has burned more than 10,000 acres and still threatens a thousand homes. Fire officials have not put a figure on how much of the fire is contained and an all-out ground and aerial assault is under way.

"What you see is a devastation I've never seen before," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said after visiting a mobile home park that was nearly completely consumed by the flames. "We're going to rebuild, make no mistake about it."

But the good news is that the high winds that have spread destruction over 18,000 acres across four counties since Thursday night have subsided and by this afternoon wind conditions are predicted to let up even further. The first of the fires in the Santa Barbara-Montecito area is now 75 percent contained.

"It's been a very tough few days for the people of California," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said this morning at a press conference held at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park in the northern Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar, where officials said nearly 500 of the 600 mobile homes were destroyed by the blaze.

Schwarzenegger praised the extraordinary efforts and coordination of state and local fire agencies and police in dealing with the disaster that has destroyed at least 800 homes and forced 50,000 people to evacuate at one time or another.

A big reason the fires haven't caused even more devastation is that the "red flag warning" that Santa Ana winds were on the way was issued early last week and there was time for firefighters to be positioned in high-risk fire areas where they could be ready to respond quickly, the governor said.

"We relocated resources earlier in the week and that paid off big time," Schwarzenegger said.

And even as firefighters were still battling some serious blazes in several communities, attention in other burned locations has begun to shift from damage control to damage assessment.

Schwarzenegger toured the mobile home park with Villaraigosa as investigators searched the site using sniffing dogs to determine whether anyone died in the the fire there. With the search about 30 percent complete by midday, officials said there was some good news.

"To this point no human remains have been found," Deputy L.A. Police Chief Michael Moore said.

Schwarzenegger called the fire at the mobile home park a learning experience and wondered aloud if mobile homes should be required to be built with more fire retardant materials just as regular homes are.

And there are other indications that the immediate emergency is improving. Nearly all freeways are passable and there are no power outages. Police are now focusing on looters.

Five have been arrested in the northern San Fernando Valley. Two women were caught by an evacuated resident who was returning to his home.

Evacuees who have not been able to go home yet are obviously anxious.

"It's killing me wondering, 'Is my house going to be there when I go back.?'" said Sharron Baker, who was in an evacuation center in Brea.

Another expressed sympathy after he learned his home was spared.

"You don't expect anything like this," said Chad Miller of Yorba Linda. "Just for your life to change so dramatically ... and I feel so terribly for our friends who already lost their houses."

Officials predict that all the fires will be 100 percent contained within a few days, but some of them burning in mountainous areas may not be completely out for weeks.

Up until recently, November would have meant that the rainy season had begun here, but California and Los Angeles in particular are mired in an historic drought. In fact, if there is not a wet winter, severe water shortages and rationing have been predicted by the state's Department of Water Resources.

And add to that a continuing danger of catastrophic fires every time the Santa Ana winds roar.