Storms spark dozens of fires in California

Sunday, June 22nd 2008, 8:26 am
By: News 9

SACRAMENTO, Calif.  -- Thunderstorms sparked as many as 75 wildfires in a wilderness area in far Northern California on Saturday as officials farther south got close to containing a blaze that destroyed several homes and forced thousands to evacuate.

Storms overnight Friday were responsible for the large number of fires in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, near Redding. Those fires range in size from less than an acre to more than 750 acres.

None immediately threatened homes, Forest Service spokesman Michael Odle said. Teams moved in Saturday on the two largest fires.

South of San Francisco, a fire that burned homes and closed a stretch of highway was 90 percent contained and could be surrounded by the end of the day, according to officials of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It had charred 630 acres, or less than a square mile.

"We made some good progress over the evening and hope to have the same today," said department spokesman Paul Van Gerwen, a battalion chief.

However, evacuation orders remained in place Saturday for the roughly 2,000 people who fled their homes Friday. Some evacuees spent the night at an emergency shelter set up at a local school.

About 650 firefighters were working in hot, dry weather to contain the blaze, which destroyed as many as 15 buildings, including several homes, and closed scenic Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County for hours, fire officials said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Van Gerwen said.

It was the third major blaze to hit Santa Cruz County in the past month. A 520-acre blaze charred destroyed 11 buildings in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a fire near Corralitos covered more than 4,200 acres and destroyed about 100 buildings.

To the south along the coast, firefighters worked against a nearly 80-square-mile fire in a remote part of the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County. It was about half contained Saturday.

In New Mexico, hundreds of firefighters battled blazes in the northern and southern parts of the state that have charred more than 100 square miles, including more than 4,000 acres on a ranch owned by media mogul Ted Turner.

In a remote southeastern part of the state, lightning-sparked fires have scorched more than 95 square miles of mainly desert landscape.

The largest fire, 20 miles southwest of Hope, doubled in size Friday because of gusty winds and has charred more than 40,000 acres, or about 64 square miles. Two other blazes, about a mile apart and 30 miles west of Roswell, have blackened more than 32 square miles, and officials say the fires could merge.

In northern New Mexico, a fire that began as two blazes burned nearly 7 square miles on Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch.

(Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)