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Fires set a state record for total acreage burned

July 15, 2008|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

As firefighters from as far away as Australia arrived to help exhausted California crews, officials said Monday that the blazes had set the state's record for area burned in a single "fire event."

Nearly 840,000 acres -- 1,312 square miles -- have been scorched since lightning storms June 21 set off more than 1,700 fires.

"That has definitely surpassed any of our large fire events," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. By comparison, fierce Santa Ana winds last year ignited fires that burned about 640,000 acres in Southern California.

Aided by lower temperatures and higher humidity, firefighters were taming the nearly 300 blazes that were still burning. Residents in threatened Paradise, 90 miles north of Sacramento, have returned to their homes, and the city's Feather River Hospital is set to reopen this week.

Even so, extremely dry conditions throughout the state have officials worried.

"Historically, we see the most devastating fires in September and October," Berlant said. "As we go on this summer, things will only get drier."

The state's ongoing fires have destroyed about 100 homes. One person was found dead Friday in a blackened residence near Concow, a small community near Paradise.

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steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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