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Northern California fire forces thousands to evacuate

10:30 PM, Aug 19, 2012   |    comments
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Thousands of people were told to leave their homes Sunday as a growing wildfire burning out of control in thick forest threatened rural communities in far Northern California.

The fire that started Saturday has destroyed seven homes and consumed nearly 19 square miles near the towns of Manton, Shingletown and Viola, fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. About 3,000 homes spread out across a rural area along the border of Tehama and Shasta counties were threatened as the fire continued to expand, he said.

"A good majority are immediately threatened, and a good number are in the path of the fire," Berlant said Sunday. "We will be battling it hard today to protect as many of those homes as possible."

The fire's cause had not been determined, but officials said it started after a series of lightning strikes in the area.

Nearly 1,000 firefighters were battling the flames.

No part of the blaze was contained Sunday evening, and fire activity had picked up, Berlant said.

John Cluff, 42, told the Redding Record Searchlight that he was forced to flee his home before the evacuations were issued. He went back for his dog about 3:30 p.m.

"The fire basically chased me out of the property," he said. "All I could see was black smoke and flames."

The Shasta County Sheriff's Department has declared a State of Emergency for the county, with evacuations expected to continue through Sunday. The agency also was closing some local roads.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation center in Redding, about 35 miles to the west of the blaze.

The fire, burning in a rugged area of thick forests about 170 miles north of Sacramento, is one of handful of new fires in Northern California.

Another wildfire that started Saturday has consumed about 1.5 square miles east of the Mendocino County community of Covelo. That blaze, which was sparked by lightning, was burning in a remote area of thick timber and rugged terrain, making it difficult for fire crews to access. A third new fire has scorched about half a square mile in a remote area of Shasta County.

Meanwhile, a massive wildfire that has been burning in the Plumas National Forest since July 29 grew larger late Saturday and early Sunday as strong winds pushed the flames past fire lines on the fire's northeast edge.

"Winds picked up, and it got very dry in the afternoon," fire spokesman Brad Pitassi said. "It made a good push in that area."

The blaze, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, has consumed nearly 70 square miles and continued to threaten about 900 homes. The fire is 38 percent contained, with full containment expected Aug. 31.

Also in California, a wildfire in Lassen Volcanic National Park was 51 percent contained after consuming more than 43 square miles. Officials expected firefighters would have the blaze contained by Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the West, fires also continued to rage.

- In Idaho, about 1,100 firefighters worked to protect some 350 homes in the Featherville area under a mandatory evacuation as the Trinity Ridge Fire continued a slow approach toward the community.

"The fire will make it to Featherville," fire spokeswoman Mallory Eils said. "It's just a matter of when."

Eils said many people had evacuated but some chose to stay in the area that along with Pine is a recreation getaway in the mountains 105 miles northeast of Boise. It's unclear how many residents remained.

Thunderstorms brought erratic winds and lightning strikes to the area Sunday. One strike sparked a small fire east of Featherville, but firefighters who were staged nearby were able to quickly extinguish the flames.

The Trinity Ridge Fire has destroyed eight structures, including four outbuildings. Crews planned to continue building a line around the northwest and southwest areas of the blaze Monday, fire officials said.

- In Washington state, better weather over the weekend has helped firefighters gain ground on a fire that has scorched dozens of homes near Cle Elum, about 75 miles east of Seattle.

Jessica Payne, a spokeswoman for the Taylor Bridge fire, said Sunday that lightning strikes hadn't materialized as previously feared. Fire officials expect the wildfire to be contained on Monday if the weather remains favorable. The fire broke out last Monday at a bridge construction project and has burned across more than 23,000 acres of grass, sagebrush and timber in rural areas.

- In Utah, evacuation orders were lifted east of Park City as firefighters made progress on a wildfire near Jordanelle State Park. But crews were dispatched to another Wasatch County blaze Sunday afternoon where 60-foot flames were reported in Daniels Canyon.

County fire spokeswoman Janet Carson said the Whiskey Springs Fire was reported in the canyon near State Route 40 just before 1 p.m. She said an air attack might be the only effective way to fight the human-caused fire because of the steep terrain.

The Fox Bay Fire that started Saturday near Jordanelle Reservoir has burned at least 550 acres but was estimated at 40 percent contained Sunday. Residents returned to their homes in the Fox Bay, Stillwater and Shores areas, and state park visitors were allowed to retrieve their property.

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Associated Press reporters Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Keith Ridler in Boise and Phuong Le in Seattle contributed.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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