LOS ANGELES — Southern Californians endured a third day of destruction Saturday as wind-blasted wildfires torched hundreds of mobile homes and mansions, forced tens of thousands of people to flee and shut down major freeways.
No deaths were reported, but the Los Angeles police chief said he feared authorities might find bodies among the 500 burned dwellings in a devastated mobile home park that housed many senior citizens.
"We have almost total devastation here in the mobile park," Fire Capt. Steve Ruda said. "I can't even read the street names because the street signs are melting."
The series of fires has injured at least 20 people and destroyed hundreds of homes from coastal Santa Barbara to inland Riverside County, on the other side of the Los Angeles area. Smoke blanketed the nation's second-largest city Saturday, reducing the afternoon sun to a pale orange disk.
As night fell, a fire fed by a sleet of blowing embers hopscotched through the winding lanes of modern subdivisions in Orange and Riverside counties, destroying more than 50 homes, some of them apparently mansions.
A blaze in the Sylmar community in the hillsides above Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley destroyed the mobile homes, nine single-family homes and several other buildings before growing to more than 8,000 acres — more than 12 square miles. It was only 20 percent contained Saturday.
Fed by Santa Ana winds topping 75 mph, it sent residents fleeing in the dark early Saturday torched cars, bone-dry brush and much of Oakridge Mobile Home Park. The blaze, whose cause was under investigation, threatened at least 1,000 structures, city Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Kelley said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles. Fire officials estimated that at its peak 10,000 people were under orders to evacuate, including residents of the mobile home park.
The Santa Anas — dry winds that typically blow through Southern California between October and February — tossed embers ahead of flames, jumping two interstate highways and sparking new flare-ups. Flame raced up ridge lines covered in sun-baked brush and surrounded high-power transmission line towers.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the fire caused problems that shut down power lines in places, and he asked residents to conserve power to help avoid possible blackouts.