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IRVINE, Calif. — More than a dozen wildfires, whipped by strong desert winds, raged Monday in a region stretching from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border. At least one person has been killed and 250,000 people were ordered evacuated from the San Diego area.
"It is a tragic time for California," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who declared a state of emergency in seven counties. The governor said a fire now has been reported in the Tahoe area of Northern California. "It's dry all over California, wind all over. The conditions are really terrible."
Firefighters struggling with weekend blazes that have consumed 40,000 acres, or 62 square miles, battled new fires that erupted on Monday, particularly in San Diego County.
Hundreds of patients were being evacuated Monday from a hospital and nursing homes in Poway, a San Diego suburb, that is in the path of one of at least seven fires in the county. San Diego County sheriff's spokeswoman Susan Knauss said the facilities were removing patients in ambulances and school buses.
•Santa Clarita. The "Canyon Country" fire north of Los Angeles is the largest, destroying 25 structures in the suburbs around the city. Los Angeles County Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Massey said the blaze, called the "Buckweek Fire," has burned about 25,000 acres.
•San Diego County. Seven fires are active, including several new ones that broke out on Monday. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said that nearly 250,000 people were being evacuated in the county, with emergency squads rushing ahead of the "extremely quick moving fire" to pluck people from its path.
Fire has devoured more than 5,000 acres in northern part of the county and forced the evacuation of the community of Ramona, which has a population of about 36,000.
A fire jumped Interstate 15 into the densely populated Rancho Bernardo neighborhood as authorities ordered thousands of homes evacuated. It merged with a smaller fire that broke out near the San Diego Wild Animal Park and moved toward the exclusive suburb of Rancho Santa Fe.
•Irvine. A high school and elementary school near the blaze were closed Monday morning, but police said shifting winds had eased the immediate threat to the city. Evacuated residents were allowed to return home, but police urged all residents to remain indoors and keep windows
, doors and garage doors closed to prevent flying embers from igniting homes.
•Malibu. Fire claimed another house overnight as 700 firefighters struggled to protect several upscale communities nestled in the hills. About 1,500 people were evacuated and the blaze destroyed a church and several homes, one of them the landmark Castle Kashan, a stately fortress-like home with turrets and arched windows
. "This fire is zero percent contained, which means we're at the mercy of the wind," acting Malibu Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich said.
•Orange County. A fire that grew to 8,800 acres was believed to be arson, Orange County Fire Authority Lynnette Round spokeswoman said. It was 30% contained.
The lone death came in a fire that burned more than 14,000 acres — or about 22 square miles — about 70 miles southeast of San Diego, just north of the Mexican border town of Tecate, California Department of Forestry spokesman Matt Streck said.
Four firefighters and at least 10 other people were hospitalized, Streck said. Some of the injured were hikers, and others may be illegal immigrants.
In Irvine, Charlene Stephenson headed home from her job at a supermarket Sunday night to find police officers blocking access to her brand-new apartment complex because of a raging blaze in the Irvine hills just beyond it.
"We have nothing — no clothes," Stephenson said as she stood a half mile or so from her home, still visible in the flickering flames. "I just want some documents, maybe some underwear and deodorant and a toothbrush."
Her home in the Portola Springs Apartment complex had only been completed about three months ago, she said. "We're just waiting, hoping they'll let us back in," she said.
Flames leaped from dry brush alongside the Highway 241, a relatively new toll road at Irvine that was closed by the fire. Also shut down was a two-lane road through Santiago Canyon, and numerous side streets.
Residents of other nearby neighborhoods were prepared for a possible evacuation.
"My car is packed and I'm ready to go," Irvine resident Sheila Ivery said Monday morning. She said she had to persuade her son, a high-school student, to leave behind his favorite DVDs and video games.
Television stations in Southern California pre-empted scheduled programs and maintained live coverage of the fires, often with dramatic images from helicopter-mounted TV cameras. Air tankers could be seen making water drops over the flames at Malibu, and at the big fire in rural Canyon Country fire, horses freed by their owners could be seen escaping the flames.
In many cases, crews couldn't begin to fight the fires because they were too busy rescuing residents who refused to leave, fire officials said.
"They didn't evacuate at all, or delayed until it was too late," said Bill Metcalf, chief of the North County Fire Protection District. "And those folks who are making those decisions are actually stripping fire resources."
"You do not expect something to stretch our resources to this magnitude," Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Sam Padilla said. "To try and staff something this big, you cannot predict it."
Warm temperatures and strong winds created "dramatically worse" conditions overnight as flames shot 200 feet high, Metcalf said.
In Ramona, in San Diego County, several structures were burned on the edge of town and sheriff's deputies called residents to alert them the fire was approaching the city, said San Diego sheriff's Lt. Phil Brust.
"The winds are up, it's very, very dangerous conditions," San Diego County spokeswoman Lesley Kirk said. "Fires are popping up all over the place."
Qualcomm Stadium, home to the NFL San Diego Chargers, was being used as an evacuation centers.
In Malibu, the castle that was destroyed belonged to Lilly Lawrence, the daughter of a former Iranian oil minister. She said she was able to gather a few things before the fire engulfed her home, including some jewelry and memorabilia that included Elvis Presley's Army fatigues.
She didn't seem too worried about losing most of her belongings in the fire.
"My parents taught me not to allow my possessions to posses me," Lawrence told KABC-TV. "So, that's the story. The house is a house."
Winds carried embers across the Pacific Coast Highway, closing the popular road and setting fire to cars and trees in the parking lot of a shopping center where a supermarket, drugstore and other shops were damaged.
In all, five homes and two commercial buildings had been confirmed lost throughout the Malibu area, Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman said. Nine more homes were damaged, he said.
The fire may have been started by downed power lines, Capt. Mike Brown said.
"This is a conflagration we knew was going to come at some point," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at a Malibu press conference Sunday, noting Southern California's ongoing dry spell. "We were cruising for a bruising. We are very, very lucky as we stand here tonight that the damage has been as limited as it has been."
Contributing: Douglas Stanglin in McLean, Va.; The Associated Press