Dry winds, heat fan wildfires across California

DAVENPORT, Calif. (AP) - August 16, 2009 Bonny Doon residents trickling home along newly reopened roads were relieved to be out of immediate danger, but still apprehensive because containment lines built by firefighters are holding back only half the blaze. That fire has burned through about 10 square miles of the rugged terrain since Wednesday.

A state of emergency was declared in the county. Other blazes forced evacuations and knocked out power in other parts of the state.

Margaret Kliegel was at the fire command center in Davenport on Sunday afternoon dropping off bread and cookies for the fire crew when she learned she could return home. She left her house Thursday as the flames shot into the air three miles away.

"We've lived here for close to 40 years so you got all your mementos and family things, and you don't know if you'll have a home to go back to," Kliegel said. "Second time in 14 months that these guys have saved us."

The news wasn't as good for Bob McAuliffe, a carpenter who lives on a two-story home on Last Chance Road with his wife, chickens, dogs, cats and cockatiels. They all left under orders, and remained under mandatory evacuation for a third day.

"I'm just anxious to get home," he said.

Fire crews were unable to fight the blaze by air Sunday because of the heavy smoke, but made good progress on the ground along the western and southern ends of the wildfire, said Paul Provence, a state fire department engineer.

Crews planned to clear the canyon of heavy brush on Monday, he said.

"The danger is still real," Provence said. "It still could pop up on us."

Crews reinforced the firefighting effort Sunday, totaling 2,165 firefighters.

Fire officials warned that the nearby community of Swanton remained threatened by the blaze. A mandatory evacuation order there continues to keep about 400 residents away from their homes.

Weather conditions overnight - cooler temperatures and increasing humidity - are expected to help the firefighting effort.

But authorities remain vigilant, because the drought in much of the state has created dangerous conditions.

The blaze was just one of 11 wildfires statewide that pushed firefighters into rugged terrain to contain the flames and guard against new blazes.

"Things are so dry out there that it doesn't take much for a spark or an ember to quickly develop into a wildfire," said CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

A fire in Yuba County, north of Sacramento, had burned more than 3 square miles after jumping the Yuba River and moving away from the Sierra Nevada foothills community of Dobbins, which had been threatened. About 120 residents who had left their homes were able to return, Berlant said.

"It's being fanned by the wind," he said.

That fire, which was ignited by burning feathers from a red-tailed hawk that flew into a power line, was more than 15 percent contained, but about 600 homes were still threatened Sunday. Voluntary evacuations remain in effect for parts of the community.

The Colgate Powerhouse - the oldest powerhouse in the state - and two others were powered down, along with four major power lines. Together, they produce 300 Megawatts of power for the area.

About 1,385 fire personnel are in the area fighting that blaze, though the steep, rough terrain made their work difficult.

In Alameda County, firefighters were able to fully contain a grass fire that burned about 19 square miles near Tracy, said Alameda County Fire department spokeswoman Aisha Knowles.

"Even with the fire contained, people should remain vigilant because we're still in the middle of fire season," said Knowles.

Meanwhile, winds were helping crews beat back a week-old wildfire in northern Santa Barbara County that investigators say was started by a camp fire used by marijuana growers.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Joe Pasinato said the fire was 60 percent contained Sunday morning. The blaze has burned nearly 134 square miles of timber and brush in and around the Los Padres National Forest about 20 miles east of Santa Maria.

Pasinato says residents are being let back into homes in the Tepusquet Canyon area Sunday. An unknown number of homes and ranches remain under evacuation orders on the fire's eastern edge.

Smoke and ash from the fire whirled into the Los Angeles area Saturday, prompting an unusual weather forecast of "scattered smoke."


Associated Press Writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Juliana Barbassa in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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