Fires in southern California threaten 1,000 more homes

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The Independent US

Fires driven by strong winds raced through southern California yesterday, killing 10 people and destroying more than 500 homes.

As more than 208,000 acres of the state were consumed in flames, the largest pocket of fire, which took place in eastern San Diego, claimed the lives of eight people, including two who died while trying to flee in a car.

The blaze reportedly started on Saturday when a lost hunter, who has since been arrested, set off a signal fire near the mountain town of Julian.

Meanwhile, a 1,000-acre strong fire that broke out the following day near San Diego killed one man and destroyed dozens of homes, according to Lora Lowes of the California Department of Forestry.

New fires were sparked as embers were blown by gusts of wind of up to 70 mph causing devastation to the congested suburb of San Bernardino, 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

A 50,000-acre fire burned through four towns, killing two men and destroying more than 300 homes, according to the county coroner.

James McDermith, 70, collapsed as he was leaving his home. Charles Cunningham, 93, collapsed as he stood in the street watching his house burn.

In Old Waterman Canyon, Santa Barbara, a casino on an Indian reservation, a university, a retirement home and a mental hospital were evacuated. More than 4,000 people were left their homes, power to thousands was cut and the region was choked with smoke.

Outgoing Governor Gray Davis declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino and Ventura counties.