Walls of towering flames pushed by Santa Ana wind raged through Southern California hills early Sunday after destroying hundreds of homes and forcing thousands of residents to flee.
Evacuees could only watch the wildfires from a distance and wait to learn the fate of their homes and possessions.
Fires in Los Angeles County, to the east in Riverside and Orange counties, and to the northwest in Santa Barbara County had blackened nearly 29 square miles and destroyed more than 800 mobile homes, houses and apartments since Thursday night.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared states of emergency in all three counties.
More than 60 homes burned in the communities of Corona, Yorba Linda and the Anaheim Hills area of Anaheim where local television pictures showed fire crews fighting blazes from the backyards of homes.
In addition, 50 units of one apartment complex burned, Orange County fire spokeswoman Angela Garbiso said.
Elsewhere the most threatening blaze had charred more than 11 square miles in Orange and Riverside counties since erupting Saturday and shooting through subdivisions entwined with wilderness parklands.
Containment was just 5 percent early on Sunday.
Firefighters were given some relief later on Sunday as winds slowly began to subside.
The National Weather Service said Sunday that the Santa Ana wind was gusting up to 39 miles (mph) per hour (63 kilometres (kph) per hour) in the Sylmar area of northern Los Angeles, much lower than the roughly 80mph (130 kph) gusts that had fanned a huge wildfire there on Saturday.
The wind had also slowed to 25 mph (40 kph) in Orange and Riverside counties, allowing firefighters there to set backfires to prevent flames from moving into more neighbourhoods.