Evacuations urged as Californian fires spread

  Evacuations urged as Californian fires spread

17 August 2009

published by www.canberratimes.com.au

Ca, USA — California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urged residents to heed mandatory evacuation orders yesterday as more than 7000 firefighters battled to control nearly a dozen fires across the parched state.

Mr Schwarzenegger met firefighters at the Lockheed fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Lockheed fire has blackened close to 21sqkm of remote wilderness since Wednesday and prompted mandatory evacuations of the mountain communities of Swanton and Bonny Doon, which have about 2400 residents and several wineries.

”These fires will be different than most of the fires because of the terrain,” Mr Schwarzenegger said.

”It’s very hard to get equipment in there and the resources in there. That’s why you see a lot of helicopters and fixed winged aircraft being used.”

Firefighters worried that strong offshore winds would fuel flames by drying out the trees and brush, but they hadn’t developed by late yesterday.

Mr Schwarzenegger said the Lockheed fire was one of 11 burning in the state.

One fire in Yuba County north of Sacramento grew dramatically and officials more than doubled the firefighting force to contain it.

Other blazes have forced evacuations and knocked out power, and smoke and ash from the growing bushfire in Santa Barbara County whirled into the Los Angeles area, prompting an unusual weather forecast of ”scattered smoke”.

A state of emergency has been declared for Santa Cruz County.

Mr Schwarzenegger said 25 firefighters had been injured in various blazes but the extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

The Lockheed fire started on Wednesday about 16km north of Santa Cruz. A change in winds shifted the fire away from Bonny Doon but closer to Swanton.

No homes had been destroyed and no injuries were reported. The blaze damaged two small structures and was threatening more than 1000 homes and buildings. The cause is under investigation.

Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department said yesterday that a week-old fire burning in the Los Padres National Forest was started by a campfire set by marijuana growers, part of a drug operation run by Mexican nationals.

More than 230 homes and ranches remained under evacuation orders as more than 2000 firefighters fought that blaze, which has burned 340sqkm of timber and brush in the forest about 220km north-west of Los Angeles. It was 25 per cent contained.

Bonnie Bartling, of the National Weather Service, said scattered smoke from the fire was forecast for most of the weekend in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Fernando Valley, and a number of other areas of northern Los Angeles County.

The blaze in Yuba County spread rapidly yesterday from less than 5sqkm to more than 15sqkm as the flames jumped the north Yuba River and began burning in Nevada County, according to CalFire spokeswoman Joann Cartoscelli.

She said the number of firefighters was more than doubled to 1300 from around the state to battle the blaze, which was initially touched off by burning feathers from a red-tailed hawk that flew into a power line.

The fire destroyed two homes on Friday, forced the evacuation of about 120 homes and knocked out power in the Sierra foothills town of Dobbins, Ms Cartoscelli said.

Residents of about 40 of those homes were allowed to return after their evacuation orders were lifted.

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