By SHAYA TAYEFE MOHAJER
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Intense Santa Ana winds swept into Southern California Monday morning and whipped up a 3,000-acre wildfire, forcing the closure of a major freeway during rush hour and burning mobile homes and industrial buildings.
"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.
Re-energized flames jumped the Foothill Freeway, which was then closed in both directions for a three-mile stretch in northern Los Angeles amid 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.
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."
The cause of the fire wasr under investigation. It was 20 percent contained and no serious injuries were reported. One home was destroyed Sunday.
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.
The fire had burned through at least 3,200 acres of rugged terrain in the Angeles National Forest.
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.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)