California crews fight raging wildfires

Associated Press

San Francisco – — A wildfire that broke out in far Northern California on Monday burned at least 75 structures, forced the evacuation of about 1,500 residents and caused the closure of a major interstate freeway.

Winds gusting up to 40 mph spread the fire near the town of Weed, about 50 miles south of the California-Oregon border, to at least 200 acres, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Berlant said the fire damaged or destroyed 75 structures, and it forced the evacuation of residents in Weed, Carrick and Lake Shastina.

The fire also prompted the closure of Interstate 5.

Meanwhile, firefighters were trying to gain better access to two raging wildfires that have forced hundreds to evacuate their homes, including one near a lakeside resort that destroyed nearly two-dozen structures.

In Northern California, firefighters spent the day working to build and reinforce containment lines in steep terrain near a foothill community south of an entrance to Yosemite National Park in central California. Authorities there evacuated about 900 residents from 400 homes, Madera County sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart said.

The blaze has burned a less than a square mile and destroyed 21 structures — 20 of them homes, CalFire spokesman Dennis Mathisen said. The fire started off a road outside of Oakhurst, near Yosemite, and spread to Bass Lake, a popular year-round destination.

More than 300 firefighters were on the scene of the blaze, which is 20 percent contained and has not affected the park, Mathisen said. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

The destructive fire led Gov. Jerry Brown to secure a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover 75 percent of the cost of fighting it, state officials said.

The blaze is the latest to hit the area, which is still reeling from the Junction Fire near downtown Oakhurst that destroyed eight structures earlier this summer.

"I really feel for this community, which has already been through a lot," Mathisen said. "This is yet another example of how the damaging effect of this drought has impacted California."

Farther north, a wildfire about 60 miles east of Sacramento forced the evacuation of 133 homes. El Dorado County sheriff's officials said residents of an additional 406 homes were being told to prepare to flee.

More than 800 firefighters are battling the blaze, which started in a remote area Saturday but exploded Sunday when it reached a canyon full of thick, dry brush. The fire grew by 900 acres overnight to more than 6 square miles, Mathisen said.

It was 10 percent contained, he said.

In Southern California, a fire in Orange County's Silverado Canyon was started by the sun's rays reflecting off sheet metal that edged a homeowner's backyard garden, officials said.

The 2-foot-tall metal fencing surrounded a vegetable garden and was intended to keep small rodents out, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi said. The sheet metal ignited a wooden border and nearby grass and then spread.

The homeowner will not be charged or fined for the accidental blaze, Concialdi said.

Evacuation orders for 200 homes were lifted late Sunday as the fire is 80 percent contained. The fire started Friday and grew to 1½ square miles, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Six firefighters suffered minor injuries, many of them from heat exhaustion. A heat wave was expected to last through Tuesday as red-flag warnings were in effect for Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.