SAN DIEGO (AP) – Wildfires blown by fierce desert winds Monday reduced hundreds of Southern California homes to ashes, forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee and laid a hellish, spidery pattern of luminous orange over the drought-stricken region.

At least one person was killed and dozens were injured. At least 655 homes burned – about 130 in one mountain area alone – and 168 businesses and other structures were destroyed.

“The sky was just red. EveSoon after nightfall, fire officials announced that 500 homes and 100 commercial properties had been destroyed by a fire in northern San Diego County that exploded to 145,000 acres, said Roxanne Provaznik, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry. The fire injured seven firefighters and one civilian, and was spreading unchecked.

“A lot of people are going to lose their homes today,” San Diego Fire Capt. Lisa Blake predicted earlier.

At least 14 fires were burning in Southern California, said Patti Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

From San Diego to Malibu, more than 150 miles up the coast, at least 265,000 people were warned to leave their homes. More than 250,000 were told to flee in San Diego County alone.

About 10,000 of them ended up at Qualcomm Stadium, where thousands of people huddled in eerie silence on the bleachers, staring at muted TV news reports of the wildfires.

At least one of the fires, in Orange County, was believed to have been set. And a blaze threatening the homes of the rich and famous in Malibu might have been caused by downed power lines, authorities said.

Mel Gibson, Kelsey Grammer and Victoria Principal were among the celebrities forced to flee over the weekend, their publicists said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the seven affected counties, opening the way for government aid.


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