Wildfires spread in California
DAVENPORT: Strong winds are spreading multiple wildfires across parched parts of California as officials worry the gusts could ignite more blazes and force more evacuations in areas already under a state of emergency.
The Lockheed Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains has blackened close to 8 square miles of remote wilderness and prompted mandatory evacuations of the mountain communities of Swanton and Bonny Doon, which have about 2,400 residents and several wineries.
Lt. Gov. John Garamendi declared a state of emergency Friday for Santa Cruz County. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has returned to California after attending the Massachusetts funeral of his mother-in-law, Eunice Shriver, is scheduled to visit the fire zone Saturday.
The fire sent huge plumes of smoke across Monterey Bay and damaged two small structures. It also was threatening more than 1,000 homes and buildings but no injuries have been reported. The cause is under investigation.
Officials said Friday that the fire was moving toward more populated areas around Highway 9.
"The winds are going in so many different directions at the same time ... We can't build a line big enough," said Rick Hutchinson, a CalFire incident commander. "Unfortunately, if it does advance far enough to the southeast, it could ultimately lead to an evacuation of the Highway 9 area."
The 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. By Friday evening, it was 15 percent contained, he added.
The steep, rugged terrain and dense vegetation have made it difficult to contain the blaze, so firefighters are focused on keeping flames away from homes, said Jim Stunkel, a battalion chief from San Jose.
"As the brush ignites, it's like a fireworks explosion, and the sparks rain down where the ranch houses are," he said.
Chris Sokoloff, 40, an electrician who moved to Bonny Doon from Portland, Ore., a week ago, spent the night at an evacuation center in Santa Cruz.
"It's really hit home this morning, seeing all the ash on the vehicles," Sokoloff said. "I got a big red hockey bag and that's all I got right now."
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."
About 250 homes and ranches in canyons and ridges near a wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest were also under evacuation orders. That week-old fire has grown to nearly 108 square miles, said U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Maeton Freel.
In Yuba County north of Sacramento, a wildfire Friday destroyed one home, forced the evacuation of about 60 residences and knocked out power in the Sierra foothills town of Dobbins, according to CalFire spokeswoman Joann Cartoscelli. KOLO-TV in Nevada reported that smoke from the blaze was visible as far as Reno.
In Alameda County, more than 300 firefighters were struggling to control a wind-driven grass fire that had grown to about 16 square miles near Tracy, said Aisha Knowles, a county fire department spokeswoman. The Corral Fire was not threatening any structures but was moving toward the juncture of Interstate 5 and Interstate 580, where officials worried it could affect visibility and traffic.
It was about 20 percent contained, Knowles said.
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 was expected to be contained Saturday.
To the east, 10 rural homes remained evacuated as wind spread a fire in steep terrain near Burney. Firefighters were using bulldozers to cut fire lines around the nearly 11-square-mile blaze about 200 miles north of Sacramento.