Wildfires blacken California's golden hills, destroy homes and force hundreds of evacuations

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Crews are battling several tough wildfires across Northern and Central California. Hundreds of evacuations have been ordered and dozens of structures are threatened. (July 30)

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LOWER LAKE, California — The golden hills of California were being blackened Friday by a series of wildfires egged on by bone-dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds.

A handful of homes have been consumed by the flames and hundreds of people chased from their houses as thousands of firefighters work to corral the fires.

Fourteen large fires are burning, mostly in the scorched northern half of the state and California's incessant drought is only making matters worse.

"They only need a little wind to allow them to burn at an explosive rate," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.

People are to blame for most wildfires, but Berlant said California's drought provides the fuel to get the flames burning rapidly.


A fast-spreading wildfire north of San Francisco nearly doubled overnight, charring 23 square miles and torching a third home.

It was only 5 percent contained Friday.

At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. The fire is burning near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.

The California National Guard on Thursday sent a fleet of eight helicopters to back up Cal Fire crews. They are dousing flames with water and will evacuate the injured, and help move around firefighters and their equipment.


A separate fire near the small town of Isleton in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta burned six or seven mobile homes Thursday evening before firefighters got it under control, said Steve Cantelme, chief of the Sacramento office of Emergency Services.

Cantelme said the fire was out Thursday night but crews remained on the scene raking through debris to ensure that no hot embers could reignite it.

Video from KCRA-TV in Sacramento showed mobile homes engulfed in wind-whipped flames at a property called Korth's Pirate's Lair Marina. Owner Kande Korth said everyone got out safely.


Crews battling a fire east of Napa Valley held their ground Friday more than a week after the fire started.

The fire has charred more than 12 square miles in Solano County.

At least 136 structures remain threatened, but evacuation orders have been lifted. It is 85 percent contained and crews are expecting to have the fire fully contained by Monday. The fire is about 45 miles east of Napa's wine county and vineyards are not threatened.


A small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travelers headed to Yosemite National Park, has forced evacuations, but state Highway 120 remains open. The 265-acre fire 20 miles from the park's entrance was 35 percent contained Friday.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is nearly three-quarters contained.


Residents of 200 homes in the Central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday. A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread overnight from 3 square miles to more than 6. It is 30 percent contained.

Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but remains out of custody because he and his family are cooperating.


Three smaller fires in the far north that started Wednesday each prompted evacuations. Two in Shasta County, 130 miles south of the Oregon border, were more than half contained.

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