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Wildfires Continue in California

President Bush declares state of emergency

By Samantha Henderson | null null , null
Flames burn a house as a California Office of Emergency Services firefighter hoses down a palm tree Monday, Oct. 22. 2007 in Poway, Calif. (Photo: ©Denis Poroy/AP Images)
Flames burn a house as a California Office of Emergency Services firefighter hoses down a palm tree Monday, Oct. 22. 2007 in Poway, Calif. (Photo: ©Denis Poroy/AP Images)

More mandatory evacuations continued on Tuesday as wildfires raged throughout Southern California. More than 3,500 additional homes were evacuated in Multh Valley, Wildcat Canyon, North Jamul, and Indian Springs. The total number of evacuations is currently estimated at 500,000.

San Diego County has been the hardest hit. County officials there said about 1,000 homes, businesses, and other structures had been destroyed since the fires started Sunday.

"Lifesaving is our priority," said Captain Don Camp, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry. "Getting people out from in front of the fire—that’s also been a priority." Officials have put "reverse 911," a recently developed emergency management system, to work. It has dialed 262,000 affected homes to give their occupants updates, including the progress of the fires and the areas being evacuated.

The situation has reached a critical point. President Bush declared a state of emergency Tuesday for seven counties in Southern California: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. That means these counties are eligible to receive federal disaster relief. Already 25,000 cots and blankets are on their way, as well as food, water, and medical aid.

Seeking Shelter

Similar to Katrina, such large numbers of evacuees create a housing problem: where can 300,000 displaced people stay?

At least 10,000 are being housed in Qualcomm Stadium, home of football’s San Diego Chargers. Others are finding shelter in community centers or schools, or at fairgrounds or the homes of friends and family.

San Diego is being stretched to the limit. By Monday evening, five of its 23 emergency shelters had already reached capacity. Those with available space were filling up quickly.

Southern California Wildfires
Photo taken from space shows the fierce desert winds blowing smoke from wildfires in Southern California, Oct. 22, 2007. (Photo: ©European Space Agency /AFP/Getty Images/NewsCom)
Firefighters are working quickly to contain 14 wildfires. "We still have the very strong Santa Ana winds and the [very low humidity], which are predicted to persist for the next couple of days," said Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman. Temperatures are also 10 degrees above average in some areas.

In Los Angeles, 2,900 firefighters have made headway as they try to contain three of the largest fires.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger surveyed the Qualcomm evacuee site recently. He assured residents he would do everything he could to assist firefighting efforts and bring aid to fire victims.

"I will be relentless all the way through this," Governor Schwarzenegger said.

CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION

Read today’s story and answer the following question.

Do you know what to do in case there's a fire in your home? Does your family have a fire escape plan?

Join a discussion of this question on our bulletin board.

About the Author

Samantha Henderson is a contributing writer for Scholastic News Online.

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