Parched California scorched by wildfires

DAVENPORT, Calif. (AP) - August 15, 2009 Schwarzenegger met with firefighters at the Lockheed Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a day after the governor returned to the state from attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, Eunice Shriver.

The Lockheed Fire has blackened close to 8 square miles of remote wilderness since Wednesday and prompted mandatory evacuations of the mountain communities of Swanton and Bonny Doon, which have about 2,400 residents and several wineries.

"These fires will be different than most of the fires because of the terrain," Schwarzenegger said. "It's very hard to get equipment in there and the resources in there. That's why you see a lot of helicopters and fixed winged aircraft being used."

The fire spread slightly overnight but crews gained some ground when the winds died down, containing nearly 30 percent of the fire, said CalFire spokeswoman Julie Hutchinson.

But an offshore wind was expected to blow into the area later Saturday, bringing hotter temperatures, dropping the humidity and drying out the trees and brush.

"If we get those winds, those high temperatures and low humidity, it could definitely cause a much more rapid fire and a lot more fire spread," Hutchinson said.

Schwarzenegger said the Lockheed Fire was one of 11 burning in the state. Other blazes have forced evacuations and knocked out power, and smoke and ash from the growing wildfire in Santa Barbara County whirled into the Los Angeles area, prompting an unusual weather forecast of "scattered smoke."

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi declared a state of emergency Friday for Santa Cruz County.

Schwarzenegger said 25 firefighters had been injured in various blazes, but the extent of their injuries wasn't immediately known. "We pray that they heal as quickly as possible,"

Schwarzenegger said.

The Lockheed Fire blaze started Wednesday about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz. A change in winds shifted the fire away from Bonny Doon but closer to Swanton, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. No homes had been destroyed, and no injuries were reported. The blaze damaged two small structures and was threatening more than 1,000 homes and buildings. The cause is under investigation.

Hannah Good, a veterinarian who lives in Bonny Doon with her partner and two children, said workers helped to evacuate her birds, cats, donkey, pony and dog.

"It was quite a scramble getting the animals and our family out of there," Good said. "Once I smelled the smoke, I knew we had problems."

Meanwhile, more than 230 homes and ranches in canyons and ridges near a wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest remained under evacuation orders. The week-old blaze in northern Santa Barbara County has burned 118 square miles of timber and brush in the Los Padres National Forest, 140 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It was 25 percent contained Saturday. Nearly 2,000 firefighters were fighting the blaze, which started last Saturday.

Bonnie Bartling with the National Weather Service said scattered smoke from the fire is in the weekend forecast for the Santa Monica Mountains, San Fernando Valley, and other areas of northern Los Angeles County.

In Yuba County north of Sacramento, where a wildfire was touched off when a red tailed hawk struck a power line and created a shower of sparks, 650 firefighters were battling blazes across 1.8 square miles of land.

The fire destroyed two homes Friday, forced the evacuation of about 120 residences and knocked out power in the Sierra foothills town of Dobbins, according to CalFire spokeswoman Joann Cartoscelli. Residents of about 40 of those homes were allowed to return after their evacuation orders were lifted.

Cartoscelli said about 35 percent of the fire had been contained but crews were concerned that dry north winds could hit the zone, fueling the blaze.

Teams were also trying to prevent the fire from spreading to the Colgate Powerhouse, the oldest powerhouse in the state. It provides electricity to the Dobbins area.

Acreage was burning along the north fork of the Yuba River, creating logistical problems.

"It's difficult it's very rough terrain. It's steep. You can't drive to it," she said.

In Alameda County which includes part of the Bay area, more than 400 firefighters were struggling to control a wind-driven grass fire that had grown to about 23 square miles near Tracy, according to a CalFire report. The Corral Fire was 50 percent contained, and while officials initially worried it could threaten visibility and traffic on Interstate 5 and Interstate 580, Alameda County Fire department spokeswoman Aisha Knowles said Saturday afternoon there was no threat to the highways.

In far northern California, Trinity County District Attorney Michael Harper has charged 60-year-old Brenda Eitzen of Los Molinos with two felonies and two misdemeanors alleging she negligently sparked a blaze by throwing away a lit cigarette Wednesday. The charges could bring a maximum four-year prison term. The Coffin Fire, burning nearly 19 square miles, was 86 percent contained.

To the east, 10 rural homes were evacuated as wind spread a fire in steep terrain near Burney, but all residents were allowed to return later Saturday. Firefighters had contained about 85 percent of the nearly 11-square-mile blaze about 200 miles north of Sacramento.

"They are making very good progress" said James Stewart, a CalFire spokesman. "It's just a matter of putting everything out now."


Associated Press Writers Samantha Young in Sacramento and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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