The U.S. Department of Defense agreed Monday to send six aircraft fitted with airborne firefighting equipment to help battle the rampant wildfires across southern California, where more than 250,000 households had been told to flee their homes.
Six C-130 aircraft capable of dropping 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant are expected to fly in by Tuesday from their bases in Colorado, Wyoming and North Carolina, according to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office.
"They will provide us with additional firefighting capabilities that will help save lives and property," the governor said in a statement.
Schwarzenegger earlier declared a state of emergency in seven Southern California counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, due to more than a dozen fires spreading across the region since Sunday, freeing up state resources to help battle the blazes driven by strong winds.
The governor has directed the California National Guard to make 1,500 Guardsmen available to be deployed as needed. The manpower includes 200 troops currently patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border.
"It's a tragic time for California," Schwarzenegger said earlier Monday during a news briefing at the scene of the 1,000-hectare fire in the Pacific coastal town of Malibu near Los Angeles.
The governor also warned that extremely dangerous, heavy winds and dry conditions make it very hard to get the fires under control.
Meanwhile, firestorms in a region stretching from north of Los Angeles to the southern U.S.-Mexico border showed no sign of abating by Monday evening, as new fast-moving brush fires were reported from different areas and the toll of evacuations, charred acreage and lost structures mounted.
In San Diego near the Mexican border, emergency officials estimated that more than 250,000 households had been told to evacuate through the "reverse 911" system, although it was unknown how many had responded to the evacuation call.
Thousands of people flocked to Qualcomm Stadium, which is used as an evacuation center, and other shelters in the city, where many hotels reported 100 percent occupancy.
"We have more houses burning than we have people and engine companies to fight them," said San Diego Fire Captain Lisa Blake earlier in the day. "A lot of people are going to lose their homes today."
The two-day fires in southern California prompted local health officials to urge the young, the elderly and those with breathing difficulties to remain indoors as the region's air quality has gotten significantly worse.