Hundreds ordered from NorCal town as fire moves

Hundreds ordered from NorCal town as fire moves

8 July 2008

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USA — Hundreds of people fled a tiny Northern California town early Tuesday as shifting winds blew a wildfire toward them. Farther south, crews struggled to contain other huge wilderness blazes before the advent of hotter, drier weather.

About 85 miles north of Sacramento, firefighters knocked on doors to tell residents of some 300 homes to immediately leave the town of Concow as it came under threat from a 15-square-mile fire. Various fire officials estimated the number of residents affected at between 800 and 2,000.

Winds up to 30 mph in steep canyons fanned the blaze, dubbed the Camp fire, one of 39 fires in Butte County that firefighters have been battling for weeks.

“Now you’re in a hell of a fire fight,” said Todd Simmons, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Simmons said firefighters were clearing away wood, propane tanks and other flammable items that might be sitting near homes in the subdivision closest to the fire.

In Central California, however, U.S. Forest Service officials planned to lift a mandatory evacuation for about 25 miles of a 31-mile stretch along the Pacific Coast Highway. The area of scenic Big Sur was closed late last month as a fire in Los Padres National Forest crept closer to the coast.

The order was being lifted to allow people to check on their homes and businesses and did not mean the fire was nearing containment, Forest Service spokeswoman Juanita Freel said.

“As of last night, it was only 18 percent contained and for that type of terrain and area, it’s still a very ongoing fire,” she said. “There were 2,500 residences still threatened.”

Homes also were still threatened by the Gap fire in the Los Padres forest above the city of Goleta in southern Santa Barbara County, and by the Piute fire in part of the Sequoia National Forest in the southern Sierra Nevada.

Those fires were among more than 300 still uncontained out of some 1,780 that have scorched more than 960 square miles of California in two weeks. Most were started by lightning strikes, but several are believed to have been human-caused.

More than 100 structures statewide have been destroyed. They include homes, a commercial building and outbuildings. One firefighter died of a heart attack.

Early morning coastal fog helped fire crews battled the 15-square-mile Gap fire Tuesday but temperatures were expected to top 100 degrees later in the day and the highs could remain in triple digits through Thursday.

The cause is a high pressure system setting up over the entire West, said Mike Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “So in addition to the very warm temperatures we’re getting, we’ll also be getting a little bit of offshore wind…which keeps the moist marine air from coming inland.”

The Gap fire was 50 percent contained Tuesday, mostly on its southern side near the most populous areas. More than 2,000 residents were able to return home Monday as some evacuations were lifted. However, 251 homes were still threatened and residents of another 3,200 were warned that they could be forced to leave at any time.

The southern edge of the fire near the relatively large town of Goleta was firmly surrounded but there were islands of unburned brush within the ring “that certainly could flare up,” said Rolf Larsen, a Los Padres spokesman.

Crews also were concentrating on the north and northwest, where flames were creeping toward scattered small communities and large ranches, avocado and citrus orchards, he said.

About eight miles of fireline needed to be built, and “the weather’s supposed to heat up continually,” he said.

The 9,710-acre fire, believed to be human-caused last month, had cost $9.3 million to fight so far, he said.

The fire has destroyed four outbuildings and two firefighters have received minor injuries.

Officials for the 125-square-mile Basin Complex fire near Big Sur and the 48-square-mile Piute fire said those blazes won’t be controlled for at least another two weeks. The Piute fire was 22 percent contained Tuesday.

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