Thousands Evacuated in California, Washington Fires

Thousands Evacuated in California, Washington Fires

14 July 2008

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USA — Heavy smoke and thick fog hampered efforts on Friday to control a raging fire threatening the northern California town of Paradise, where more than 10,000 people remain out of their homes, officials said.

“The fire is like a sleeping giant. There is no estimate for its containment,” said Yvette Streeter, town spokeswoman.

“It is a wind-driven fire and it is very dangerous for firefighters because of the steep terrain. In a lot of areas, the firefighters can’t see the fire because of the heavy smoke and clouds,” Streeter said.

The blaze near Paradise, about 86 miles (138 km) north of Sacramento, is one of 300 wildfires still burning across California after lightning storms swept across the state last month, officials with firefighting agency Calfire said.

In the Butte County area surrounding Paradise, fires have destroyed 50 homes and blackened 48,000 acres (19,000 hectares). Another 3,800 homes in Butte County are threatened. Some 10,000 people in Paradise were ordered evacuated on Wednesday.

About 20,000 firefighters were battling blazes in California that have so far burned 753,000 acres (30,500 hectares) — more than 1,000 square miles (2600 square km), US officials told a conference call organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

More than 130 firefighters from Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand were already in California or on their way, joining in the fight under mutual aid agreements among the countries, the officials said. Greece, where the United States sent crews to help fight huge fires last year, was also sending firefighters.

In Washington state, a wildfire near Spokane forced 200 people out of their homes and destroyed 13 houses, fire officials said on Friday.

The fire started late Thursday and spread to 1,200 acres (486 hectares) before officials declared mandatory evacuations in the heavily wooded part of Spokane Valley, an urban outgrowth of Spokane. No injuries have been reported.

Fire crews are being helped by lighter winds and calmer weather on Friday after battling heavy gusts on Thursday. The Spokane fire is one of several burning in eastern Washington where strong winds fanned flames in rural wooded areas.

In central California, firefighters appeared to have gained the upper hand on two large blazes burning for more than two weeks in the scenic Big Sur and Santa Barbara areas.

Most mandatory evacuations have been lifted, but residents were warned to be on alert in case of a sudden change in wind conditions. In the coastal Big Sur area, 26 homes and 31 other buildings have been destroyed and in Santa Barbara County four outbuildings were lost.

Most of the fires were sparked by mass lightning strikes during hot, dry weather on June 21. At one point more than 1,700 fires were burning in central and northern California, most of them in remote canyons and hillsides.

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