Mon, November 17, 2008
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Wildfires encircle Los Angeles

2008-11-17 03:09:16 GMT2008-11-17 11:09:16 (Beijing Time)  Reuters

Firefighters are battling to contain a string of wildfires that are encircling America's second-largest city.

The firestorms are being driven by near-hurricane force winds that have incinerated thousands of acres of brush and forest since late last week.

Hundreds of homes have already been destroyed - thousands more are at risk from the fast-moving flames.

California's governor has issued a state of emergency in four of the worst affected counties, including Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

LA's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa urged residents not to take any chances.

(SOUNDBITE) ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES MAYOR , SAYING:

"People really need to understand that because of these winds this fire can be on you in a moment's notice.

More than 20,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes.

Fires have closed major freeways and led to rolling blackouts after power lines feeding Los Angeles were destroyed.

So far no one has been reported killed but authorities fear there may be fatalities.

Rescue crews will have to wait for the ground to cool before conducting proper searches.

Lighter winds on Sunday offered some respite to exhausted firecrews but the battle to halt the advancing walls of flame and heat encircling LA is far from won.

Helen Long, Reuters

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