Winds Ease Up in Ca. Fire Zone

By: Marti Johnson, ABC News
By: Marti Johnson, ABC News

For the first time since wildfires began their massive destruction four days ago, southern Californians have some relief in sight. It comes from a break in the weather conditions that have allowed the flames to thrive.

The Santa Ana winds that sent a blowtorch of fire through the communities across southern California are diminishing.

"We are very grateful to Mother Nature and to our fire fighters and First Responders," explained Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County supervisor.

This is welcome news for the firefighters trying to get an upper hand on the 16 fires--most of them still burning out of control.

Firefighters are making progress against two spot fires burning on the Camp Pendleton Marine base in northern San Diego County where fire blackened over 3,000 acres.

Frustrated firefighters wish they had more help.

"Lots of engines to put the bulk of the fire on both sides of the freeway," said Battalion Chief Ken Matsumoto, with the Oceanside Fire Dept.

The fires have triggered the biggest evacuation in California's history--half-a-million people were ordered from their homes.

Some went to shelters set up to receive them..

"I know my house isn't there, but it's still my home and I still love it," evacuee Christine Williams said.

The destruction is overwhelming--over 600 sq. miles burned and almost 2,000 homes destroyed. Damages are now estimated to be one-billion dollars in San Diego County alone.

About 1500 remain at the Del Mar Evacuation Center. The president has now declared the affected counties to be a major disaster area in response to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's request for increased financial aid.

The president will tour the affected areas on Oct. 25.

Governor Schwarzenegger is now saying that three deaths can be blamed on the fires, which have scorched over 400,000 acres and have forced almost one-million people from their homes.

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