Wildfire rips through 150 homes in Northern California

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2014 5:08 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fire crews in California battled on Tuesday to halt the advance of a day-old wildfire that has already destroyed about 150 homes, lapped at rural schools and caused power outages that left an evacuation shelter without electricity, authorities said.

The blaze, one of about a dozen major fires raging across the drought-parched state, prompted authorities to order the evacuation of about 1,000 households in and around the Northern California town of Weed, which has a population of about 3,000.

"Weed is a small community, and a lot of people have lost their homes," said Diane Howard, a clerk for the city.

California's fire season, which runs from May to October, is already on track to be the most destructive on record, according to state fire managers. In addition to the 150 homes burned in the fire raging near Weed, more than 30 were charred in another blaze near Yosemite.

The so-called Boles Fire near Weed has scorched 375 acres (152 hectares) north of San Francisco near the Oregon border since it erupted on Monday, and has burned down about 150 residences, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Alyssa Smith.

The blaze has forced school closures in Weed, where firefighters managed to save the high school although it is now covered in foam, said school district official Sarah Jasmer.

Officials were also assessing possible fire damage to the local elementary school.

Power outages from the fire, now 20 percent contained, left a school used as an evacuation shelter without electricity.

The wildfires came as parts of California baked under triple-digit temperatures and the most populous U.S. state continued to grapple with a devastating three years of drought, which has dried out brush and trees, helping fuel the flames.

East of Sacramento, the King Fire raging mainly in heavy timber and steep terrain in the El Dorado National Forest led officials to call on about 400 people to evacuate from areas threatened by the blaze, Smith said. That fire has charred more than 11,500 acres (4,654 hectares) and was 5 percent contained on Tuesday.

More than 1,500 firefighters were deployed against the King Fire, out of a total force of about 6,000 firefighters battling the dozen blazes burning statewide, Smith said.

Further south, the Courtney Fire in and around the foothill community of Oakhurst and near Bass Lake had destroyed 33 residences and 28 outbuildings since it started on Sunday, officials said.

In neighboring Oregon, firefighters were dealing with six major blazes and had ordered evacuations of about 40 homes overnight due to the so-called "36 Pit Fire" outside Portland, which has destroyed 3,600 acres (1,457 hectares), officials said.

(Additional reporting by Courtney Sherwood in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)