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California Wildfires Force Thousands from Homes

posted on August 14, 2009


DAVENPORT, Calif. (AP) - Crews battling wildfires across California are getting more manpower and some help from Mother Nature after the blazes forced thousands of people to leave their homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Lockheed Fire, which has been burning since Wednesday, blackened about 2,800 acres, or 4.4 square miles, in Santa Cruz County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation Thursday for the entire community of Bonny Doon, which has about 2,000 residents and several wineries, as the fire threatened more than 1,000 homes and other buildings.

The blaze, about 10 miles north of the coastal city of Santa Cruz, was burning in "rural, inaccessible, steep terrain with vegetation that has been stressed by the drought," said CalFire spokeswoman Julie Hutchinson. It was about three miles from the site of last June's Martin Fire, which burned 520 acres and destroyed 11 buildings in Bonny Doon.

The area's rugged terrain and limited access was making it difficult for the hundreds of firefighters currently at the scene, CalFire spokesman Mike Mohler said, but more firefighters, six helicopters and six fixed-wing aircraft were expected Friday.

Higher humidity from overnight forecasts of fog, and light wind were also welcome news to ground crews that Mohler told the Monterrey Herald would be concentrating on keeping the fire from spreading. "It was burning within the interior of where the fire is," Mohler said. "The fire didn't move forward... It's absolutely great news." There were no reports of injuries related to the fire, whose cause is under investigation, said CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

Resident Nancy Macallister said she was disappointed about the mandatory evacuation but added that officials were "trying to keep people safe," given the fire's size, the terrain and the direction of the wind late Thursday.

Law enforcement officers went door to door as residents watered down their homes, aiming sprinklers and hoses at the rooftops. They loaded bicycles, pets, computers and other valuables into their cars and trucks. Many had to evacuate last year when flames threatened the area. A shelter for evacuees was set up in Santa Cruz, where Linda Lemaster arrived Thursday after leaving her house on Last Chance Road near Swanton. As she drove away, she saw thick smoke and flames. "I thought of volcano lava, the way it was moving in through the trees," said Lemaster, 60. "If it had kept going like that, it would have headed right to my house."

Farther down the coast, more than 1,800 firefighters were trying to control a wildfire in northern Santa Barbara County that had grown to 75 square miles. In far northern California, two separate wildfires forced the evacuation of more than 30 homes.

In Trinity County, about 25 homes were evacuated as gusty wind fed the Coffin Fire, which has burned about 1.9 square miles near Lewiston, CalFire spokeswoman Mickie Jakez said. Brenda Eitzen, 60, of Los Molinos has been arrested on suspicion of sparking the fire when she threw out a lit cigarette, Jakez said. The blaze was 40 percent contained Thursday, and firefighters hoped for complete containment Friday if the weather cooperates. Farther east, a fire covering more than 27 square miles forced the evacuation of 10 homes about 10 miles northwest of Burney, which is located 200 miles north of Sacramento. Firefighters have nearly contained three other lightning-caused fires in Shasta and Lassen counties.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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