Central California wildfire destroys 34 homes, forces 350 to evacuate

CALIFORNIA: Firefighters scrambled on Thursday to contain a deadly wildfire that has forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents and gutted dozens of homes near the coast of central California.

Ten percent of the so-called Soberanes Fire had been brought under control but a larger swathe of flames was threatening some 2,000 properties after destroying 34 homes and 10 outbuildings between Big Sur and the scenic coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea since it erupted on Friday, officials said.

The blaze burned through drought-stricken chaparral, tall grass and timber in its march through over 23,500 acres (9,510 hectares) at the edge of the Los Padres National Forest, where 350 residents have been evacuated, according to fire officials.

Some 3,500 firefighters battling the blaze may get a reprieve from the hot, blustery weather on Thursday when temperatures are forecast to ease to the upper 70s (25-26 degrees Centigrade) with light winds.

A private contractor operating a bulldozer to help fight the fire was killed on Tuesday when his rig overturned. A second bulldozer also overturned while battling the flames but its operator was unhurt, officials said.

About 300 miles (480 km) to the south firefighters made steady progress on Wednesday to contain a deadly wildfire burning in rugged, drought-stricken terrain north of Los Angeles.

Some 3,000 firefighters battling the so-called Sand Fire in the Angeles National Forest extended containment lines around 40 percent of the 38,350-acre (15,520 hectare) blaze on Wednesday, according to fire information officer Sam Wu.

The blaze has destroyed 18 homes as it churned through chaparral and brush, spewing out plumes of smoke that prompted the South Coast Air Quality Management District to warn residents in parts of Southern California to avoid outdoor activities.

About a dozen exotic animals displaced by the blaze began returning to a sanctuary in the Los Angeles suburb of Sylmar on Wednesday.

In Los Angeles County, a man killed in the Sand Fire was identified as Robert Bresnick, 67, whose body was found Saturday inside a burned-out car in a driveway, county officials said.

Acting California Governor Tom Torlakson, filling in for Jerry Brown, who is at the Democratic National Convention, declared a state of emergency on Tuesday for the counties where the fires are located.