Thousands flee as wildfires scorch LA and threaten to plunge the city into darkness

Wildfires threatening Los Angeles could plunge the entire city and its 3.8million inhabitants into darkness.

A massive blaze in the heavily populated San Fernando Valley broke out on Thursday night, destroying dozens of properties and threatening vital power supply lines.

Fanned by 70mph winds, the fire has spread over 2,600 acres, forcing 10,000 residents to evacuate.
LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has declared a state of emergency.

He said: 'This is the worst fire we've had for more than a dozen years.

'People should prepare for rolling blackouts throughout the city.'

As these pictures show, the blaze has left some of the most sought-after addresses in southern California looking like the aftermath of a nuclear attack.
Yesterday, West Wing actor Rob Lowe, whose family was among the residents evacuated in the face of 200ft-high flames, described the bushfire transformation of the wealthy neighbourhood of Montecito as ‘like something from Armageddon’.

Mr Lowe told how he and his son were forced to flee their home after a phone call from his wife telling them to 'Get out'.

She said the Californian town of Montecito, a favourite celebrity hideaway where the actor's neighbours include Oprah Winfrey and John Cleese, was going up in flames.

'We got in the car and pulled out of the driveway and the entire mountain behind us was in flames 200 feet high, shooting into the air,' he said.

'It was like something from Armageddon.'
Neighbours in the posh suburb were last night still coming to terms with the damage wreaked by what started as a small fire in the hills above the town.

Within five hours 100 luxury homes – one belonging to Back To The Future actor Christopher Lloyd – had been reduced to ashes.

Cars were left charred, their alloy wheels melting in the inferno. Fanned by 70mph winds, known locally as ‘sundowners’, the fire raged out of control over 2,000 acres of prime California real estate.

More than 1,000 firemen, supported by water-dropping helicopters, fought the fire as temperatures reached in excess of 70C (158F).

The only consolation was that just 13 people were injured.

So far the huge wildfire has destroyed at least 70 multi-million dollar mansions in the town.

Rosie Neeley, 31, fled with her parents before their house was consumed by fire overnight.

'When we saw the flames coming down the canyon, we knew it was too late.' she said.

Longtime residents Cheryl and Gary Jensen, both 59, said they, too, were first alerted to the danger by a phone call and drove away as flames neared.

They returned yesterday to find their $2million home leveled, a half-melted refrigerator still visible in the remains of their kitchen.
'It's all dust now,' said Mrs Jensen.

The brush fire engulfed more than 800 acres in about six hours on Thursday, ripping through entire blocks of mansions in a community dubbed 'America's Riviera.'

TV helicopters showed several large homes in flames on the steep hillsides of the town around five miles south of the city of Santa Barbara.

Firefighters were largely powerless to stop the destruction.

Montecito is about 90 miles from Los Angeles in coastal Santa Barbara County.

Comedian Cleese recently listed his £6m oceanfront Montecito home, he co-owns with his third ex-wife Alyce Faye Eichelberger, for sale.

The Monty Python star also had an equestrian ranch in the town which he sold in July for £8.3m.
About 2,500 residents were forced to flee the flames, and 20,000 people in the wider area were without power.

'From just watching, it’s grown significantly in size. It’s a very serious situation.

'Emergency personnel are in the area. We’ve got calls out for additional emergency personnel,' Santa Barbara county spokesman William Boyer told theThe Santa Maria Times.
'It looked like lava coming down a volcano,' Leslie Hollis Lopez said as she gathered belongings from her house.

'It’s very tenuous. We’re hoping the winds are favorable.'

Michaelo Rosso told KCAL TV as he prepared to leave his home: 'You can just hear the explosions ... of vehicles, homes,' . 'It sounds like the Fourth of July out here.'
A residence hall and several classrooms were destroyed at Westmont College, a private Christian university, and about 800 students were evacuated to the school's fireproof gymnasium, where they were out of harm's way.

By early Friday, the relentless fire had spread five miles north to the fringes of Santa Barbara city, where at least 20 homes were damaged, officials said.
In an unusual - and risky - move, three water-dropping helicopters were dispatched to the area. Such missions are not normally undertaken at night.

Many of the homes in the area are holiday or second homes.

Other residents include mobile-phone pioneer Craig McCaw, and Google Inc chief executive Eric Schmidt, who reportedly paid about $20m for comedian Ellen DeGeneres' compound earlier this year.