By AMY TAXIN
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Residents of a once neatly kept mobile home park returned Monday to see for themselves how a wildfire turned it into a desolate landscape of charred metal and blackened sticks.
One black van was used to ferry residents of the 484 homes destroyed by Saturday's inferno. White vans were used for residents of the roughly 120 homes that were still standing.
Ed Hurdle, 82, was among many retirees who lived at the Oakridge Mobile Home Park and saw all their belongings go up in flames.
"It's gone," Ed Hurdle said with little emotion after taking the first park tour organized by fire officials. "The car is gone. The house is gone. It's twisted metal. It's totally charred there. There's no hope at all. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."
The tours came as calm winds and clear skies allowed firefighters to make gains on two Southern California wildfires that devastated hundreds of homes and forced thousands of residents to flee during the weekend. Most of the evacuation orders were lifted by Monday.
Since Thursday, three major fires have burned nearly 41,000 acres, or 64 square miles. Officials warned of another bad air day on Monday, and classes were canceled at dozens of schools near fire zones in Orange County.
In Los Angeles' Sylmar neighborhood, vans carried residents of the Oakridge park past the rubble and made brief stops so those who still had homes could collect medication or other essential items before returning to an evacuation center at Sylmar High School.
Betty Glassman, 78, was one of the lucky ones.
"My house was in great shape. All it was was dirty," she said, smiling. "I feel like I'm in a dream. Pinch me."
Among the dozens of people waiting at the school to take the tour was Tommy Reaves, 45, whose home was destroyed.
"I want to be able to stand in front of my house, and I'll have closure. I'll know it's gone," said Reaves, who paid $60,000 when he bought the three-bedroom, two-bathroom modular home in 2003, then did $40,000 worth of upgrades.
Even many of the homes that remain were badly damaged by the fast-moving fire. Cadaver dogs have been searching the burned units, but so far no bodies have been found.
Elsewhere, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in San Bernardino County, the fourth county to receive the designation since a series of wildfires broke out last Thursday. The declaration directs state emergency workers to assist local firefighters in containing the blaze and evacuating residents.
The largest of the fires has burned more than 28,000 acres in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and has destroyed more than 160 homes roughly 50 miles southeast of Sylmar.
The first of the wildfires broke out in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County, about 90 miles northwest of Sylmar.
Wind gusts peaked at more than 70 mph at the height of the fires over the weekend, but weakened to about 20 mph on Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
"It's wonderful news," said Angela Garbiso, a spokeswoman with Orange County Fire Authority. "When it calms down, it obviously makes it easier for us to handle this massive undertaking."
The causes of all the fires were under investigation, although officials labeled the Santa Barbara-area fire "human-caused," said Doug Lannon, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)