Wildfire threatens 500 homes

Thursday, June 26th 2008, 11:49 am

By: News 9

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- A lightning-sparked wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest that already burned 16 homes was moving closer Thursday to the scenic community of Big Sur, where it threatened 500 houses.

The blaze was only 3% contained late Wednesday and had burned nearly 30 square miles near the coast about a mile south of Big Sur, officials said.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service predicted more lightning toward the end of the week, although forecasters did not expect as severe an electrical storm as last weekend, when nearly 8,000 lightning strikes sparked about 800 fires across Northern California.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited Monterey County on Wednesday to assess the damage and said he has called in the National Guard to help fight the fires.

"The fact is that when you have that many fires -- and there are still 700 fires left all over the state of California -- you get stretched thin with the resources," Schwarzenegger said.

The state's largest blaze, located about 20 miles east of the Big Sur fire in a more remote area of the Los Padres forest, also continued to vex firefighters, having scorched more than 92 square miles and destroyed two homes. The blaze, sparked by a campfire on June 8, was 71% contained.

Monterey sheriff's officials said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for both fires, but they could not specify how many people were forced from their homes.

The governor also stopped Wednesday in Butte County, where 27 lightning-sparked fires covering about 8 square miles were threatening 1,000 homes. The blazes, which were only 5%  contained, cropped up just as the county was recovering from a fire that charred 74 homes and 36 square miles earlier this month.

Fire crews from Nevada and Oregon have arrived to help California firefighters battle the blazes darkening skies over the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley, causing public health officials to issue air-quality warnings.

Areas hit the hardest by the lightning storm also included Mendocino County, where 131 fires have burned more than 20 square miles and threatened about 500 homes, and the Shasta Trinity Forest, where more than 150 fires have burned about 15 1/2 square miles and threatened 200 homes.

Several blazes also were burning in New Mexico, where a fire in thick trees in the Manzano Mountains led officials Wednesday to urge hundreds of people to leave their homes in and near Tajique, about 30 miles southeast of Albuquerque. About four dozen homes in the area burned in a wildfire last month.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson declared a disaster in Torrance County, where fire has charred an estimated 1,700 to 2,000 acres in the mountains.


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