msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/24/2007 11:20:30 AM ET 2007-10-24T15:20:30

A host of federal, state and local government agencies and other organizations are providing information related to the California wildfires.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency urged people who want to help those affected by the fires to make cash donations to nonprofit organizations that are active in disaster work.

A list of national organizations can be found at http://www.nvoad.org/ and at the Network for Good's site at http://www.networkforgood.org/.

What you need to know:

More information about California wildfires:

  • California’s parched climate, often desiccated brush and Santa Ana winds create the perfect recipe for wildfires. The Santa Ana winds begin in deserts to the east and rush erratically through mountain passes and canyons into Southern California communities.
  • During Santa Ana conditions, fires can be easily ignited. Some are arson, while others can be sparked by machinery operated near dry brush, campfires or carelessly tossed cigarettes. Downed power lines also pose a fire hazard. Once the wildfires are whipped by the winds, they spread quickly and are extremely dangerous and difficult to fight.
  • “Fire Season” officially begins in early summer and lasts through October, though officials say that as the state suffers through cyclical drought conditions, they consider the season to be almost year-round in Southern California.
  • The worst California wildfire of the past decade was the Cedar Fire in October of 2003, which killed 15 people and destroyed more than 4,800 structures, many of them houses, as it burned nearly 300,000 acres in San Diego County.
  • Earlier this year, Los Angeles firefighters battled major brush fires — one that blackened 817 acres in the city’s landmark Griffith Park and another that threatened the town of Avalon on Catalina Island, some 22 miles off the coast. The Zaca fire burned through 240,000 acres of Santa Barbara ranchland for two months over the summer.

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