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Wind-whipped wildfire guts 32 Stockton homes

The blaze hops around a dense neighborhood and briefly closes I-5. Winds fan other fires in Northern California.

June 11, 2008|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — High winds across Northern California whipped up wildfires Tuesday, including a Stockton blaze that swept into a residential neighborhood and gutted 32 homes.

The fire in Stockton, 50 miles south of Sacramento, hopscotched through a dense neighborhood, destroying 20 condominium units, nine single-family homes and a triplex while briefly shutting down a portion of Interstate 5.

"The good news is no one was injured," said Connie Cochran, a city spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, a quick-moving brush fire destroyed two homes and burned 6,400 acres in a rural corner of Sacramento County before firefighters contained the blaze Tuesday. A fire captain was hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns. In Butte County near the town of Oroville, two homes were lost in a 1,000-acre wildfire that was only 10% contained by nightfall. Firefighters in El Dorado County, meanwhile, were just beginning to get the upper hand on a wildfire that consumed more than 200 acres.

But the most devastating loss was in Stockton, where officials described the wind-whipped fire as the most destructive in city history.

Smoke from the blaze was visible for dozens of miles around the north San Joaquin Valley, said Tim Runion, a Stockton fire battalion chief.

Flames were extinguished by early afternoon, but fire crews remained on hand to ensure that winds wouldn't cause the fire to flare up again.

The fire started about 10:30 a.m. in brush near Interstate 5 and spread quickly to the Quail Lake neighborhood. Stockton Fire Chief Ron Hittle called it the worst in his 21 years on the job.

Business owners and residents helped battle the blaze, wetting down roofs and fences with garden hoses, Cochran said. More than 100 firefighters battled the fire, which hopped through four parts of the neighborhood, for about four hours. Two Stockton firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Aside from the 32 homes that were destroyed, dozens of others were scorched as the flames raced by, she said.

By early afternoon, the American Red Cross had set up an evacuation center at a Baptist church. About 15 people had checked in by the middle of the afternoon, Cochran said.

Fierce winds with gusts up to 40 mph buffeted the region and were expected to continue for several days.

The National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for the region, predicting strong winds and low humidity that would elevate the fire threat at least through Thursday afternoon.

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

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