By and  on October 23, 2007

Retailers in Southern California were struggling to cope with wind-driven wildfires that forced the evacuation Monday of at least 250,000 people in San Diego County.

Westfield Group, operator of seven malls in the San Diego region, said its 185-store North County mall, which includes Nordstrom, Macy's, J.C. Penney and Sears, was closed and was being used as a staging area for firefighters and police. Another property, UTC center, a recently remodeled open-air mall that features Nordstrom and Coach, among others, "has large volumes of smoke,'' said a Westfield spokesman, who was unable to confirm if it was shut down.

Westfield Mission Valley, which sits between the two main fires burning in San Diego, was open, but traffic was slow because major portions of the freeways that feed into the mall were closed, said manager Emmett Durnan.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. About a dozen fires fanned by high winds had ravaged more than 100,000 acres from San Diego to 300 miles north in Santa Barbara. At least one person was killed.

Simon Property Group has three malls in San Diego, but none were closed as of noon Monday.

In the wealthy coastal enclave of Malibu, commercial activity was largely put on hold by a blaze that swept through 2,400 acres after apparently being sparked by downed power lines. The Malibu Country Mart, home to James Perse, Ron Herman and Planet Blue, was closed. Several businesses in the Malibu Colony Plaza shopping center were damaged.

"We sometimes become immune to the things we deal with here,'' said Laura Doughty, owner of the Tola Life Spa at Malibu Colony Plaza. "We get the Santa Ana [winds] every fall, and we know they are coming...you just survive."

Stretches of major thoroughfares, most notably Pacific Coast Highway, were closed. Mandatory evacuations were in effect for an estimated 2,000 people of some 13,000 who live in Malibu.

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