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California wildfires rage, force thousands to evacuate

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2017-07-10 Bart Jansen
The Whittier Fire burns near Cachuma Lake and Highway 154 in Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara Couty, Calif. on Saturday. © Mike Eliason, Santa Barbara Fire Department via EPA The Whittier Fire burns near Cachuma Lake and Highway 154 in Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara Couty, Calif. on Saturday.

Firefighters battled three wildfires across California on Sunday that consumed buildings and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

Gov. Gerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for northern California's Butte County after the Wall Fire damaged critical infrastructure, threatened homes and forced evacuations north of Sacramento.

The fire on Sunday grew to 5,000 acres and was 17% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection. It said nearly 1,100 firefighters were battling it from the ground and air.

 

One of two fires raging in Santa Barbara County was “completely out of control" after burning at least 12 square miles near Cachuma Lake and shutting down State Route 154, fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said. About 90 children and 50 counselors were stuck at the Circle V Ranch after the fire erupted Saturday, before they were safely evacuated.

California had three wildfires raging at once amid record-high temperatures, despite record rainfall and snowpack that delayed the start of fire season.

Elsewhere across the West, air and ground crews were battling a growing grass fire in Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming, and evacuations were ordered for two areas in Arizona. But earlier evacuation orders were lifted in Colorado and Montana towns that had been threatened during the weekend.

The fires erupted in California as the state baked in record-breaking heat. A 131-year record in Los Angeles was snapped when the temperature spiked at 98 degrees downtown, breaking the previous record of 95 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Santa Barbara officials alerted residents and campers near Cachuma Lake by mid-afternoon Saturday to evacuate as the fire started near Whittier Camp, Zaniboni said. Residents were also ordered to leave cabins in the Los Padres National Forest.

“The plan is to hit it with air tankers to keep it from moving to the south and to the east,” Zaniboni said of efforts Sunday. “There’s less heat and less wind, which makes things a little easier.”

Another wildfire in that county forced the evacuation of 200 homes in a rural area east of Santa Maria. Dry gusts and high temperatures blew the fire to triple its size to nearly 38 square miles, Zaniboni said.

In Northern California, several people were injured and 10 structures destroyed by a Butte County wildfire that swept through grassy foothills and forced the evacuation of 3,500 people. The fire about 60 miles north of Sacramento left burned-out pickups and charred trees in its path.

In other Western fires:

• Dozens of firefighters in Oregon were battling a wildfire with helicopters, air tankers and ground crews, according to the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership. The fire near Summer Lake destroyed two buildings and charred about 1.5 square miles of sage brush and scrubs by Sunday morning.

• Two fires were burning Sunday in rural Arizona. Pinal County said it would declare a state of emergency after a wildfire that began Friday night burned 10 buildings in Dudleyville, including three homes, about 100 miles southeast of Phoenix. No casualties were reported in the so-called Roach fire, but firefighters from Yuma to the Tonto Basin were responding, according to the county.

• In Yavapai County, evacuations were ordered for the Bridge Canyon Estates subdivision near the town of Seligman, nearly 200 miles north of Phoenix because of a brush-and-grass fire sparked Saturday by lightning.

• In northwestern Colorado, the Peakaboo grass fire scorched 19 square miles near Dinosaur National Monument. The fire was spreading in several directions at once because of wind patterns from passing thunderstorms, fire information officer Chris Barth said.

• Nearly 500 residents of homes outside Breckenridge ski resort were allowed to return home Friday night after evacuating for the Peak Two fire that began Wednesday, but wasn't spreading on Sunday.

• In southern Wyoming, a wildfire in beetle-killed trees grew to 3 square miles, prompting evacuation orders for an unknown number of cabins. Fire managers said good weather helped them make progress fighting the blaze.

• An evacuation order in Landusky, Mont., in the Little Rocky Mountains south of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation was lifted Saturday.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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