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The remains of a home gutted by fire Thursday in Tijuana. The remains of a home gutted by fire Thursday in Tijuana.

1 person dead, 56 homes destroyed in fires fueled by Santa Ana winds

75 blazes registered in Tijuana and three other Baja California communities

Four Baja California border communities were hit by fires Wednesday night and Thursday morning that burned 56 homes to the ground and left one person dead.

Seventy-five separate blazes, driven by Santa Ana winds that reached 100 kilometers per hour in some higher elevations, either destroyed or did serious damage to homes in Tijuana, Playas de Rosarito, Ensenada and Tecate, forcing residents to flee.

Many were left with little more than the possessions that they could grab while fleeing, such as one couple observed by an El Universal newspaper reporter as they walked to a shelter in Tijuana with nothing more than a teacup, some porcelain items, and a couple of blankets.

Tijuana resident Dalila Gallegos described the fires as “an inferno.”

“That’s the only way I can describe it; it was an inferno,” she said while organizing a collection center created spontaneously by neighbors Thursday to provide fire victims with supplies. “When I got there, the scene was like a movie: people running, in tears, shouting, ‘Have you seen my father?’ ‘Have you seen my brother?’”

A friend of hers lost her mother, she said, after their home suddenly caught fire and they had to evacuate. After making sure that the children were safely outside, the woman decided to go back into the house and died when the building exploded in flames.

Gallegos said she saw the woman’s family walking around the area afterward, asking everyone they could if they had seen their mother. Later the woman’s daughters searched for her among the ashes.

“They found their mother’s body under some burnt wood,” she said.

Tijuana’s municipal government set up three temporary shelters and was planning on distributing 8 million pesos to help victims. State Civil Protection officials reported that the Santa Ana winds are expected to continue until sometime this weekend.

Mayor Arturo González Cruz cited the Santa Ana winds — which at times sounded like the roar of jet engines, witnesses said — as well as a lack of water in some areas as reasons why the blazes ended up intensifying and impeding emergency officials’ ability to respond quickly.

The winds, which surge from the east and south, bring hot and dry weather creating a fire-friendly environment for wildfires in both Mexico and the U.S. from around October through as late as March.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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