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Some Areas Evacuated as Wildfires Burn Across State

August 16, 1996|From Associated Press

Wildfires burned more than 14,600 acres of brushy hill country in Southern California on Thursday, forcing evacuation of a town and a juvenile detention camp as crews battled flames in erratic winds and high heat.

A fast-moving fire roared into Los Padres National Forest in San Luis Obispo County. It burned 2,500 acres of grass and brush and was moving toward homes northeast of Santa Margarita, said Shirley Grogg, a spokeswoman for the county Fire Department. Residents in that rural area were evacuating voluntarily.

Gusty winds were driving the flames.

A vehicle apparently sparked the fire 15 miles east of the community near a recreational vehicle camp, Grogg said. A stretch of Highway 58 was closed along with several smaller roads.

Farther south, afternoon temperatures topped 100 degrees, and there were erratic winds blowing near two Riverside County fires.

A juvenile detention camp in Twin Pines was evacuated as an 802-acre blaze roared out of control east of Beaumont, burning two travel trailers, said county fire spokeswoman Joanne Evans.

A voluntary evacuation also was in effect. No homes were immediately threatened, but authorities needed to get word out to some isolated ranches in the area 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Highway 243 was closed.

An 11,345-acre fire near the ranching community of Banning was 80%contained and was expected to be fully surrounded by tonight, Evans said. A portion of Highway 79 was closed near Gilman Hot Springs about 10 miles southwest of the community.

There were four minor injuries reported. The cause of the fire, which began Monday, was unknown. Nearly 1,000 firefighters were on the line.

Both Riverside County fires were burning in brush and chaparral, some of it 20 feet high. Water-dropping aircraft helped, but the main work was done by hundreds of firefighters chopping out fire lines by hand.

"It is hilly and inaccessible," Evans said. "It's a hike in and a hike out. You can't drive the engines in on too many places."

Meanwhile, Northern California firefighters shifted focus to a stubborn eastward-moving fire that has burned more than 10,000 acres near Clear Lake.

The fire in the Mendocino National Forest, which came within three miles of Upper Lake and destroyed one home, headed into sparsely populated woodlands, driven by winds up to 10 mph. "This is pretty isolated country. There are some scattered dwellings, but nothing is imminently threatened," said Joe Hart, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Nearly 1,800 firefighters were at the scene, along with dozens of earthmovers and four air tankers.

Other fires throughout the state were contained, including blazes that scorched 12,000 acres in Tuolumne County and 3,000 acres in Calaveras County.

In Tulare County, the Kaweah fire spread into Sequoia National Park during the night and threatened rangers' housing, California Department of Forestry spokesman Ed Phillips said. Fire engines have been placed in the area to protect the residences.

The threat to homes at Three Rivers eased even though the fire grew to 3,050 acres, Phillips said. Sixty percent of that acreage lies in the park.

More than two dozen lightning-set fires were reported in the Shasta-Trinity area, including a 700-acre blaze about 40 miles southwest of Redding in the Yolla Bolly Wilderness Area.

In Warm Springs, Ore., a 91,000-acre fire destroyed nine homes, forced the evacuation of 150 houses and stranded about 300 people at a tribal resort.

The fire at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation also temporarily closed a 40-mile stretch of U.S. 26.

"The fire just went crazy," said Colleen Olson, spokeswoman for the Emergency Response Center in Salem. "It was burning so hot and so fast it was skipping patches, and then it came back and burned over the patches."

About 700 new fires were reported by Thursday morning in Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Washington and Wyoming--mostly small fires sparked by lightning, the National Interagency Fire Center said. Fires also were burning in Nevada and Colorado.

"We got a lot of lightning all over the West," spokeswoman Rose Davis said. "It's a typical summer."

Nearly 355,000 acres have burned across the West since Aug. 8, pushing the total to 3.95 million acres for 1996, she said. Last year, Western wildfires burned 1.28 million acres.

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