Controlled burns set to battle California blazes

Controlled burns set to battle California blazes

17 July 2008

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USA — Firefighters set more controlled burns Wednesday to block a wildfire that already has blackened 190 square miles and destroyed 27 homes on the central California coast.

The controlled fires set Wednesday were proceeding well despite high humidity that had prevented firefighters from setting “back burns” on Tuesday.

Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for about 20 homes along the heavily wooded ridges near Carmel Valley, said Ruby Urueta, spokeswoman with the Monterey County Emergency Operations Center.

Another 200 houses were emptied in nearby Cachagua because of the fire danger. The fire was 61 percent contained Wednesday, emergency officials said.

President Bush is scheduled to visit California on Thursday to survey fire damage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and meet with first responders.

State officials say the nearly 2,100 separate blazes that have burned nearly 1,400 square miles since a lightning storm struck June 21 is the largest single fire event in California history. The previous largest was in October 2003 and resulted in 24 deaths.

Those blazes spread through a more populated area in Southern California, but fire officials say the smaller number of deaths and injuries is due in part to the increased focus on safety.

The only firefighter death so far has been attributed to a heart attack, said Daniel Berlant, a state fire department spokesman.

Among residents, accidents have also been few. A body found Friday in a burned-out house in Butte County was identified Wednesday as a 61-year-old man who didn’t heed evacuation requests.

“It’s important that people listen,” Berlant said. “When we put an evacuation notice out, there’s a reason. People want to defend their property, but they’re not trained, they don’t have safety gear.”

Three men rescued after a hasty 911 call were treated for burns, and two were jailed Wednesday for defying orders and remaining in a closed area near the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

The third man was treated at a hospital for deeper burns, said Jim Richardson, Chief Ranger at Whiskeytown.

In eastern Washington, fire crews gained ground on several blazes Wednesday despite gusty winds and warm temperatures.

Authorities lifted an evacuation advisory Wednesday morning for about 2,300 homes east of Spokane, where a fire has scorched 1,006 acres and destroyed 11 homes. The fire was 90 percent contained, and crews hoped to fully contain it Thursday.

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