Residents return to devastated LA mobile home park

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Cadaver-sniffing dogs searched for victims at a mobile home park as most evacuation orders were lifted yesterday, when clear skies and calm winds allowed firefighters in Southern California to make some gains against three fires that destroyed about 1,000 homes.

But officials warned of another bad air day and classes were canceled at dozens of schools near fire zones in Orange County. In Los Angeles, dejected residents returned to what was left of a community some once called the "Beverly Hills of mobile home parks."

"It looks like a war zone — no trees, no buildings," said Michele Warneck, 54, who burst into tears after returning from the Oakridge Mobile Home Park. She had watched her two-bedroom house burn on the television news. "Everything that was porcelain just blew up."

Once considered a paradise with swimming pools and tennis courts, the park on Monday was roamed by cadaver-sniffing dogs in search of anyone who didn't escape.

Stacks of charred bricks, blackened shells of cars and burned tree trunks were all that remained of the park, where winds with hurricane intensity blew a wall of fire through nearly 500 manufactured homes and set them ablaze so quickly that even firefighters had to drop their hoses and run.

The inferno destroyed 484 homes in the community in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles on Saturday. Firefighters were able to save about 120 homes, but many were badly damaged.

Those whose homes were destroyed were shuttled through the neighborhood in a black van. Police were still investigating the fire, so people weren't allowed to get out and sift through the ashes for scraps of their belongings.

"It's gone," said Ed Hurdle, 82, after taking one of the first park tours. "The car is gone. The house is gone. It's twisted metal. It's totally charred there. There's no hope at all. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."

A separate set of white police vans ferried residents whose homes were still standing so they could gather medication and other essentials.

"My house was in great shape. All it was was dirty," said Betty Glassman, 78. "I feel like I'm in a dream. Pinch me."

Cadaver dogs have been searching the burned units, but so far have only found the cremated remains of a man who died several years ago.