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by Abraham Nudelstejer, Translated by Ariel Soto

"Nothing, I couldn't find anything," said Vianei Salmeron, who scanned Spanish radio stations Sunday evening for information about the fire

(PNS) SAN DIEGO -- As fires continue to rage in San Diego County, Hispanic residents have had trouble getting emergency information in Spanish.

 2007 Santa Ana fires
The Southern California Santa Ana fires are the worst American natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina (PHOTO: NASA)

The worst wave of forest fires in the history of San Diego County left 950,000 evacuated (one out of every three homes), 1,500 buildings destroyed and 600 square miles consumed by the blaze.

"And this will get worse," said Sheriff Bill Kolender.

Gusts of wind reaching 65 miles per hour, large amounts of dry foliage and high temperatures have created the conditions for a massive forest fire that is now burning out of control.

Regional weather reports predict that the conditions will continue until Wednesday, extending the state of emergency another 48 hours.

Firefighters hope temperatures continue to drop and that humidity levels, currently at less than ten percent, stay low.

As of today, Tuesday, temperatures at the coast reached almost 90 degrees and it was above 90 degrees inland.

As of the close of this edition, the U.S. Forest Service in San Diego reported two deaths and 17 severely injured people, including four firefighters.

Although they realized the danger of the fire, many people resisted abandoning their homes.

Noemi Orozco, a resident of Ramona, said the police ordered her to evacuate her home on Sunday night but two of the people that she shares her apartment with decided to stay in their home even though it was considered unsafe.

"These people are very religious and we begged them on the phone to leave their apartment but they said they weren't going to leave and that it was God's will whether this would be their end," commented Orozco, who is taking refuge at the Qualcomm stadium.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Sunday night in San Diego County and southern California.

On Monday he was in San Diego to guarantee that firefighting agencies would have the support of his administration and the federal government. Schwarzenegger said that 1,500 members of the National Guard will be available to help fight the forest fire.

According to the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, diplomatic personnel are in constant communication with county authorities to help offer emergency services for those affected by the fire and those who have been evacuated.

The U.S. Forest Service reports that they have 350 firefighters, 45 fire trucks, two tractors, five planes and three helicopters working on putting out the fires.

The first blaze, named Harris, began at 9:20AM on Sunday near Potrero. The second, called Witch, started later that day at 12:30PM.

Desperation grew and information in Spanish reached people slowly.

When she came home on Sunday evening, Noemi Orozco didn't know what to do. The fire had grown massively.

"I saw a huge cloud of black smoke coming toward my house but I didn't know what to do," said the 38-year-old resident of Ramona.

Orozco said she turned on her television but none of the Spanish channels interrupted their programming to provide information on what was happening with the fire.

"It was about five in the evening and one channel said there was a huge forest fire and to watch again at 11:00 that night to get more information," said a woman taking refuge at Qualcomm Stadium, who doesn't speak much English and fortunately had police knock on her door to tell her she needed to evacuate.

"I watched the English channels but it was hopeless because I can hardly understand it. At 7:00PM the police came and one spoke Spanish, telling me to leave my apartment because of the approaching danger."

The case of Orozco occurred among other Hispanics who searched all over the Spanish channels for news of the fire.

"Nothing, I couldn't find anything," said Vianei Salmeron, who scanned Spanish radio stations Sunday evening for information about the fire.

On Monday, Spanish television stations began interrupting their regular programming to give the community information about the fire.

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Albion Monitor   October 23, 2007   (

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