"It was nuclear winter. It was like Armageddon. It looked like the end of the world," Mitch Mendler, a San Diego firefighter, told USA Today as homes burned throughout the Southern California landscape.
Winds of up to 75 mph -- equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane -- whipped out of the desert through mountain valleys, increasing as much as 30 degrees per mile. The so-called Santa Ana "Devil Winds" continue to make conditions ripe for wildfire activity.
Behind the firestorms, a prolonged and intense drought, and global warming, laid the groundwork for the wildfires. (See "Extreme" Drought Laid Groundwork for Fires and California Wildfires and Global Warming.)
There was one death over the weekend, but no others reported since. Several news reports indicated, however, that many were failing to obey evacuation requests or orders -- signaling that some may be putting themselves in harm's way.
More than 250,000 people were asked or told to evacuate, and an uncounted number of homes -- dozens at least -- have burned.
Air quality is poor across the region, as lung-choking smoke clogs the air.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in seven counties: Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura.
"Its a tragic day for San Diego County and for California," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference yesterday, according to a transcript on the governor's Web site.
"The fires are fast-moving," he added. "Many, many of the structures have been already destroyed. More than 1,000 homes are threatened," he said. "The fire has been driven, of course, because of the strong winds, the high temperatures, and the dry environment that we have."
And some firefighters and experts interviewed by the press said things could well get worse.
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