Northern California fire forces 1,500 to evacuate


(Fire crews from around the state, including Santa Cruz County, are on hand to combat the Pawnee Fire in Northern California's Lake County. Photo courtesy of Aptos/La Selva Fire)

LAKE COUNTY — A massive wild fire that has scorched close to 18 square miles, or 11,500 acres, and forced 1,500 people to evacuate, continued to rage across rugged terrain and rolling hills in Lake County Tuesday.

The blaze, only 5 percent contained, is burning through dry brush, grass and timber and has destroyed 12 homes and 10 other buildings since it started on Saturday. It is threatening another 600 buildings, said Emily Smith, a spokeswoman with California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Early Tuesday the fire was heading toward a sparsely populated area in a region hardly hit by wildfires in recent years, authorities said.

The fire, about 120 miles north of San Francisco, is being spurned by unusually hot weather, high winds and highly flammable vegetation turned brittle by drought.

A strike team headed north to the blaze from Santa Cruz County made up of engines from Aptos La Selva Fire, Central, Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and Cal Fire with a crew of about 16 people.

On Monday Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Lake County. The declaration will enable officials to receive more state resources to fight the fire and for recovery.

Jim Steele, an elected supervisor, said the county is impoverished and its fire-fighting equipment antiquated. He also said the county has just a few roads into and out of the region, which can hinder response time. Steele said the area has also been susceptible to fire for many decades because dense brush and trees in the sparsely populated area, but the severity of the latest blazes is unexpected.

"What's happened with the more warming climate is we get low humidity and higher winds and then when we get a fire that's worse than it's been in those 50 years," Steele said.

More than 230 firefighters were battling the Lake County fire in a rugged area that made it difficult to get equipment close to the blaze, Smith said.

Residents also fled wildfires in Shasta and Tuolumne counties. At least a dozen blazes are burning throughout California.

No cause has been determined for any of the fires.

Last year, California's costliest fires killed 44 people and tore through the state's wine country in October, causing an estimated $10 billion in damage.


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