The Santa Cruz fire burned more than 3,000 acres in the mountains of central California before Mother Nature stepped in and helped bring it under control. The fire has chewed through acres of centuries-old redwoods, destroyed at least 17 homes and displaced hundreds of people. Calmer winds and off-shore moist air Friday morning helped firefighters battle the blaze which had forced hundreds of residents out of their homes, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes. But as the marine layer lifted and the gusts picked up by afternoon, crews found themselves struggling to maintain the fire lines. Almost 2,000 residents remained under evacuation orders - more than 450 of them mandatory - while almost 2,700 firefighters and a swarm of tanker planes and helicopters continued dousing the area, said Dave Shew, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Shew said the cost of battling the blaze has risen to about $1.7 million and he expects the containment effort to continue through the weekend. "It's going to take a little time to build 9 miles of line with manual labor," Shew said. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the Santa Cruz Mountains Friday to assess the damage and declared a state of emergency in Santa Cruz County to allow access to funds for the effort. Schwarzenegger warned against failing to act quickly enough - a lesson learned from last year's wildfires. "Move quickly, this is what we always say," he said. "Don't procrastinate, and don't worry about over-preparing or over-reacting. This is people's lives we're dealing with." Fire officials said they had contained about 25 percent of the blaze, which so far has burned about 5 square miles and destroyed 28 structures. Another 500 buildings were threatened. Meanwhile, the blaze left a trail of devastation. An unscathed bush of red roses was all that was left on the lot of one burned house with a sign in front that read "Spoiled dogs live here." The home overlooking Monterey Bay was surrounded by a charred landscape where power lines lay melted across skeletons of bushes and trees. The ground was covered with scorched vineyards and black earth, an occasional puff of smoke rising from it.
Gov. Arnold SchwarzeneggerNo injuries have been reported from the fire, which was first reported Thursday morning in the mountain range that separates Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties. The area, about 15 miles south of San Jose, is rural but dotted with homes. The cause remained under investigation. Kathy Adams and Kenneth Rich hadn't even gotten a chance to return to their property before learning from news photographers who had taken pictures of their home that their house, built by Adams' father, was lost. The couple had gathered Friday afternoon at a market in Corralitos with other evacuees, exchanging news about their homes and neighbors. "I feel a great sadness in my heart for everybody who is Involved in this event," Rich said. "It's devastating." Meanwhile, the cold, wet weather that's helping the firefighters in northern California is creating some almost unheard-of late-spring events in southern California - like snow! In the town of Wrightwood, in the mountains just outside Los Angeles, a white cover made it a Memorial Day weekend to remember. The wet weather has caused problems in last fall's fire burned hillsides. Mudslides closed roads and tore through homes. In Sierra Madre, just northeast of Los Angeles, dirty brown water and sludge washed onto the roads in a densely populated canyon below foothills that were burned bare by a wildfire about a month ago. Two roads were closed after a pre-dawn landslide of mud and debris. A skiploader was brought in to clear the area as road crews standing in foot-deep muck wielded shovels. Residents were urged to leave Thursday night when thunderstorms pounded the hillsides but few did, said James Carlson of the city's emergency operations center. Resident Mary Dotson said she was exhausted after sleeping less than three hours while worrying about the hillside. She said neighbors in the close-knit community had been planning a weekend party to celebrate the completion of a neighbor's pool. "It's filled with mud," Dotson said. No homes were in immediate danger Friday, but a voluntary evacuation remained in effect and residents were offered sandbags to protect their homes, Carlson said.
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(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)