USA — With more than 1,000 fires burning in Central and Northern California,President Bush on Saturday designated a region stretching from Nevada to thePacific Ocean a federal disaster area. Firefighters hoped the arrival of a thickmarine layer would aid their intense battle.
The emergency declaration brings with it both equipment and financial relieffrom the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the counties of Butte,Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta and Trinity, where fires,many triggered by lightning, have charred more than 308,000 acres and destroyedat least 28 homes — 16 of them in the mountains near Big Sur’s legendary70-mile coastline.
More than 6,800 homes are threatened across California, said Cheri Patterson, aspokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Protection. More than17,000 firefighters from more than 35 states are battling the fires. The effortincludes 1,194 fire engines and 85 helicopters, according to the department.
Even with the federal help, the state will need additional money to pay for thehigh cost of fighting the blazes, said Frank McCarton, chief deputy director inthe Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who thanked the president for the declaration,said in a statement, “It is hot, and the state is tinder-dry. This will bea long fire season.”
The windy, dry weather abated somewhat on Saturday.
“You know our lives are ruled by the weather and, thankfully, we arepredicting very light winds, and we have a thick marine layer,” said TinaRose, another spokeswoman for the forestry department.
With so many fires, state officials are having difficulty updating data.One ofthe most threatening blazes, the Basin fire near Big Sur, had burned 30,043acres — it grew by 3,062 acres on Saturday. It was only 3% contained Saturdayevening, said Kathy Good, a spokeswoman for the Los Padres National Forest.
California Highway 1 remained closed from Lucia to just south of Big Sur — withfire on a ridge above the road. The only access to Big Sur is from the north.
“We’ll be on this one for the long haul,” Good said. “It’s goingto be a very tough fire. . . . It’s rugged, it’s road-less with very littleaccess and it gets very hot.”
In Big Sur, the Post Ranch Inn reopened to guests on Saturday and the VentanaInn’s website said guest stays would resume Monday afternoon.
The Nepenthe restaurant, known for its ocean views, reopened Friday. Businesswas slow Saturday, with only 15 tables filled, said restaurant supervisor ShaneStephens.
On the backside of Big Sur in Los Padres National Forest, the monks of theTassajara Zen Mountain Center continued Saturday to prepare for the worst andhope for the best.
With a potential threat from fires still burning on three sides, an inmate workcrew and U.S. Forest Service strike team joined the two dozen Buddhist monks whoremained at the spiritual retreat in case the flames advance.
Leslie James, a spokeswoman for the center, said the biggest threat appears tobe a fire burning to the south, which could advance if prevailing winds kick up.Today, however, there was virtually no breeze, she said, and the fire seemed tohave stalled.
A more immediate concern for the monks, James said, is that the professionalfirefighters are expected to leave by today and questions remained about whenand if they would return.
“Everyone would feel better if the Forest Service fire crews stayed,”she said.
The monks have been putting in 16-hour days clearing fire breaks and installingsprinklers atop structures on the 160-acre retreat.
Firefighters on Saturday finally managed to surround the 60,074-acre Indiansfire that has been burning farther south in the Los Padres National Forest sinceJune 8. Full containment is expected Thursday.