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Clouds over state bring new fire fears

July 11, 2007|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Clouds rolling over California taunted firefighters Tuesday, offering hope for moisture but sparking worries of "dry lightning" that could ignite more parched vegetation.

The National Weather Service raised its fire threat level for the Bay Area, where lightning was expected through the evening, said forecaster Steve Anderson. Officials in the brown Sierra foothills were also trying to douse several large fires blazing since late last week.

Cooler temperatures and lighter wind in Northern California allowed crews to make significant progress toward taming a 35,000-acre fire in the Inyo National Forest. California's largest blaze, sparked by lightning Friday, was 80% contained Tuesday after destroying six homes and closing trails into a popular wilderness area north of Mount Whitney.

But with lightning possible throughout the afternoon, officials were not sending firefighters home, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Pam Bierce.

On Sunday, the fire temporarily forced 200 residents in Independence to leave their homes. It closed a long stretch of California 395 and caused minor injuries to 11 firefighters, Bierce said.

Along the coast, firefighters lost some ground in the Los Padres National Forest as flames fed on brush and trees unburned in four decades. The 10,400-acre fire in Santa Barbara County was 30% contained, fire spokesman Joel Vela said.

Nearly 1,800 firefighters were working in steep, rocky and broken terrain. The fire had burned into the San Rafael Wilderness in Los Padres National Forest, where terrain is so rugged that bulldozers and fire engines can't be used.

Eighteen helicopters and two air tankers also were fighting the blaze, which began last Wednesday at a ranch northeast of Buellton when sparks from grinding equipment used in repairing a water pipe-ignited brush.

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