Residents in Northern California flee wildfires

Residents in Northern California flee wildfires

10 July 2008

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USA — Firefighters on Thursday worked to save homes from an out-of-control wildfire in the Sierra Nevada foothills ahead of an expected wind change that could further complicate efforts to corral the blaze.

The fire in Butte County has already destroyed dozens of homes this week and forced some 10,000 residents to flee.

Firefighters braced for northeast winds—forecast for Friday morning—that are similar to winds that caused the blaze to flare up Monday night and destroy about 50 homes and 10 outbuildings.

“We’re hoping to get things under control to be ready for that wind change,” said Tobie Edmonds, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Firefighters on Thursday positioned themselves on the eastern edge of the town of Paradise, above the Feather River canyon. They and a few stubborn homeowners were preparing to protect the Sierra foothills town where a separate wildfire forced thousands of evacuations and destroyed 74 homes last month.

“They’re monitoring that fire and trying to keep it on the east side so it doesn’t cross over to the west bank” and reach the town, Edmonds said.

Lloyd Knifong, 47, and his son Kyle, 20, were preparing to spend a sleepless night defending their home and several others lined on two sides by 70-foot pine trees. A fire engine was parked in the cul de sac, and the pair have jerry-rigged sprinklers to the roofs of several homes in case flames approach. Others had fled the neighborhood near Feather River Hospital, which also has been evacuated.

“I’ve been hanging out. I’ll tell you why: I’ve got 25,000 gallons of water in my pool, I’ve got a two-inch fire hose, I’ve got a pump. It’s just a battle. We’re working with what we have,” Lloyd Knifong said. “When we see it coming, I’m going to empty my pool and get everything nice and wet. Then we’ll leave.”

Knifong has lived in Paradise since 1960 and has already moved his four vintage cars to a safe location. He says he’s received a lot of support, including 28 messages from people at work offering to help him.

“Hopefully we’ll survive this thing. Paradise is definitely red alert. Too many trees,” Knifong said.

The blaze is one of about 40 lightning-sparked wildfires that over the past two weeks have charred more than 76 square miles in Butte County. By Thursday, there were about 15 active fires.

In Concow, about 90 miles north of Sacramento, firefighters cleared and intentionally burned brush to keep the flames away from houses. Bone-dry trees ignited with loud pops like strings of firecrackers as 30-foot flames lit up a ridge around one rural home protected by an engine crew. Hundreds of beetles, grasshoppers, lizards and eight-inch rats fled ahead of the blaze.

Animal control officers rounded up dogs, cats, horses and other animals left behind when owners hastily evacuated earlier this week.

Evacuations orders remained in place, but some Concow residents were allowed to check on their homes Thursday.

“I think my place is gone,” said Rachael Davidson, 37. “When we left, there were flames all around.”

Wildfires across California have burned nearly 1,100 square miles and has destroyed about 100 homes since a lightning storm ignited most of them more than two weeks ago. Some 1,460 fires had been contained by Thursday, but more than 320 still were active, authorities said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter to President Bush asking for more equipment and personnel to help build fire lines and train California National Guard troops deployed to assist firefighting efforts, his office said.

“California is in the midst of battling unprecedented wildfires that have stretched our state’s firefighting resources to their limit and placed thousands of Californians in immediate danger,” Schwarzenegger said in the letter.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said they were reviewing the request.

Other fires burning around the state included:

— A 54-square mile fire east of Bakersfield, which was 32 percent contained Thursday and not threatening any homes.

— A 140-square mile blaze in Big Sur that has destroyed at least 27 homes and 31 other structures, and was 41 percent contained.

Authorities late Wednesday issued new mandatory evacuation orders for about 50 homes along a rugged road leading to the historic Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

— A 15-square mile fire in the Santa Ynez Mountains above the Santa Barbara County coast. It was 75 percent contained Thursday.

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