Cooler weather helps crews battling explosive California wildfire; 13,000 are urged to flee



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Blazes raging in forests and woodlands across California have taken the life of a firefighter and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes as crews continue to battle the flames. (Aug. 2)

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LOWER LAKE, California — Cooler weather helped crews build a buffer Monday between a raging Northern California wildfire and some of the thousands of homes it threatened as it tore through drought-withered brush that hadn't burned in years.

At least two dozen homes were destroyed over the past few days, and more than 13,000 people were urged to flee.

The fire — the largest blaze in drought-stricken California — roughly tripled in size over the weekend to 93 square miles, generating its own winds that fueled the flames and reduced thousands of acres of manzanita shrubs and other brush to barren land in hours.

"There's a lot of old growth-type vegetation and four years of drought to dry it all out," said Lynne Tolmachoff, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It was ready to go."

Lower temperatures and higher humidity allowed firefighters to contain more of the fire in the Lower Lake area, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, said CalFire Capt. Don Camp.

"We are hoping we only have to deal with winds from the weather instead of the fire creating its own winds," he said.

Numerous other wildfires in California, Washington state and Oregon took off as the effects of drought and summer heat turned the West Coast combustible. California blazes killed a firefighter last week and injured four others over the weekend in different areas.

Crews in the Lower Lake area conducted controlled burns, setting fire to shrubs to rob the blaze of fuel and protect some of 5,500 homes under threat. The fire is burning in a rural area of grasslands and steep hills.

More than 13,000 people have been forced from their homes or have been advised to leave. The fire has destroyed at least 24 homes and 26 outbuildings.

"Everyone we know that lives down there, they have nothing anymore. It's just crazy," Nikki Shatter of Clear Lake told KCAL-TV.

Additional fire crews were brought in, bringing the number of firefighters to nearly 3,000. Two more National Guard air tankers were being brought in from Colorado to drop retardant, Tolmachoff said.

Crews battled 20 other wildfires in California — some sparked by lightning — though none was as big as the Lower Lake blaze.

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