California’s Wildfire Fight Draws Help From Canada (Update1) 

California’s Wildfire Fight Draws Help From Canada (Update1)

13 July 2008

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USA — California, where 322 wildfires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres, received fresh help today when four Canadian airtanker planes arrived. Each holds 2,000 gallons (7,570 liters) of flame retardant.

The top-priority Butte fire, which is threatening 300 residences, has been 55 percent contained as gusty winds died down today and humidity increased, said Shawn Sternick, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire. Almost $46 million has been spent battling the blaze, which has destroyed 50 homes, according to the Cal Fire Web site.

“I think it’s fair to say that most of the action is now centered on northern California,” Mark Rey, undersecretary of natural resources and the environment for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in a teleconference call this afternoon. He said the battle against the central California fires was progressing “reasonably well.”

The Canadian planes are joining 14 other aircraft from the country already deployed in California and will assist state and federal efforts and will be joined by about 45 Fire specialists from Australia and New Zealand expected to arrive tomorrow morning in Boise, Idaho. Two firefighters have been killed, in addition to one civilian, and 278 people have been injured, according to state and federal fire reports.

Fires Start June 21

The state’s wildfires have been burning since June 21, down from the peak of 1,781. A total of 801,726 acres has been scorched thus far as of 9 a.m. local time, according to Cal Fire. Sternick said all immediate evacuations for Paradise, California, 170 miles (274 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, had been downgraded to precautionary.

The National Weather Service forecast called for winds as strong as 7 miles (11 kilometers) per hour today and a peak temperature of 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36 Celsius), less than the record highs set earlier this week.

“The Butte fire is our top priority because of the threat to life and property,” said Lisa Page, a spokeswoman for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Another series of blazes being closely tracked by the state is the Shasta-Trinity complex of 158 fires near Redding, California, which is 218 miles north of San Francisco. Forty-six of the fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest are still burning, according to the Cal Fire Web site. The total acreage burned since June 21 is 74,561 acres (30,173 hectares).

Federal officials on the conference call warned that California wasn’t the only state in danger, saying that there are efforts to keep fires in Arizona, Utah and Washington from becoming larger blazes.

Brian McManus, fire director for the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, said other areas of the country experiencing significant fire danger included central Texas and the northern Appalachian Mountains in the U.S. Northeast.

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