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Twin wildfires in California destroy dozens of homes, thousands evacuated

A firefighter turns his head from the flame of the Butte Fire burning near San Andreas, Calif., Friday, Sept. 11, 2015.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
September 13, 2015 - 4:30 PM

COBB, Calif. - Within 12 hours of igniting, a wildfire burning north of San Francisco had swallowed up more than 60 square miles (155 square kilometres) of land, injured four firefighters and burned highways and buildings, prompting an emergency declaration and forcing thousands to flee.

The emergency declaration Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown for Lake and Napa counties frees up resources for the blaze, burning about 100 miles (160 kilometres) north of San Francisco.

The fire in Lake County erupted Saturday afternoon and rapidly chewed through brush and trees parched from several years of drought, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. Entire towns as well as residents along a 35-mile (56-kilometre) stretch of highway were evacuated.

The firefighters, all members of a helicopter crew, were airlifted to a hospital burn unit, where they were being treated for second-degree burns and were listed in stable condition, department spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

Brown had declared a state of emergency for a separate 101-square-mile (262-square-kilometre) wildfire about 70 miles (113 kilometres) southeast of Sacramento has turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills an eerie white.

Crews increased containment on that blaze to 20 per cent by early Sunday.

The fire, which broke out on Wednesday, destroyed 81 homes and 51 outbuildings and was threatening about 6,400 more.

"I lost my business — it's all burned up — my shop, my house, 28 years of living," said Joe Thomas, who lives near the community of Mountain Ranch. "I got to start all over. It's depressing."

Thomas, who runs a tractor dealership and repair business, said he and his wife grabbed papers, his work computer, photos and their four dogs. But they left a goat, five ducks, six rabbits and more than 30 chickens behind.

"I turned the pens open and turned them lose. I just couldn't gather them up," he said. "All we want to do is go home. It's miserable."

More than 3,850 firefighters were assigned to the blaze, and more we expected to join the firefight. Its cause is under investigation.

Meanwhile, new evacuation orders were issued Saturday for the largest wildfire in the state, threatening to sweep through an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees. The fire, sparked by lightning on July 31, has charred 201 square miles (521 square kilometres), the U.S. Forest Service said.

Firefighters cleared brush around the Grant Grove and set prescribed burns to keep the flames from overrunning it. By Saturday, the backfiring and monitoring efforts appeared to have helped protect the treasured trees, the Fresno Bee reported.

The grove is named for the towering General Grant tree that stands 268 feet (82 metres) tall. There are dozens of Sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada, and some trees are 3,000 years old.

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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