LOS ANGELES– Intense Santa Ana winds swept into Southern California Monday morning and whipped up a 3,700-acre wildfire, burning mobile homes and industrial buildings and forcing the evacuation of eight patients from a nearby hospital.
LOS ANGELES– Intense Santa Ana winds swept into Southern California Monday morning and whipped up a 3,700-acre wildfire, burning mobile homes and industrial buildings and forcing the evacuation of eight patients from a nearby hospital. "This is what we feared the most," said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Mark Savage. "The winds that were expected, they have arrived." The blaze, 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, began Sunday and was calm overnight, but flared up early Monday when winds gusting to 65 mph moved in. Ambulances were transporting eight patients on ventilators, including six newborns, from Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley to other hospitals as a precaution, spokeswoman Carla Nino said. The facility had about 180 patients left. Flames re-energized from the morning winds sent flames jumping across the Foothill Freeway, which was then closed in both directions for a three-mile stretch in northern Los Angeles during the morning rush hour, officials said. "That was quite a jump, that’s an eight-lane fire break," said fire spokesman Paul Hartwell. Fire Inspector Ron Haralson said the blaze had reached a mobile home park and an industrial area, but could not say how many structures had burned. The park was evacuated earlier Monday before flames reached it, he said. Officials said the fire has burned 3,712 acres and was about 5 percent contained Monday morning. The cause of the fire was under investigation. One home was destroyed Sunday but no serious injuries were reported. The fire sent about 1,200 people from their homes over the weekend. All remained evacuated Monday morning, when the winds arrived and marked the start of the region’s serious fire season. About 100 evacuees had gathered at San Fernando High School, where some had seen news footage of their homes burning, said Red Cross spokesman Nick Samaniego. "You can imagine, it’s a devastating situation," he said. "A lot of people on pins and needles waiting to hear news about their communities." Jim Williams, 72, a retired city utility worker, was woken around 6 a.m. by police officers driving down his street telling residents to leave immediately. Williams grabbed his medication, comb and toothbrush and was out of his house within five minutes. He went to the nearby Hansen Dam Aquatic Center, a 40-acre water recreation facility. "I thought I would be safe here," Williams said. The longtime resident said the area hadn’t burned since a large brush fire tore through in 1974. "I didn’t expect it again," Williams said. "The trees there at the time burned and didn’t grow back, only brush. I felt relatively safe that if the brush burned, it would only be a small fire, nothing like this." Water-dropping helicopters returned to the air after sunrise after they were grounded amid the wild winds. The helicopters returned to the air after sunrise. Television showed one helicopter attempting to drop water on a building, but the winds blew the water away long before it could reach the structure. A "fire weather watch" was declared through Tuesday for all of Southern California except the deserts. Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report. AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.