Firefighters advance on blaze in California's Sierras

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 23, 2014 8:23 PM

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fire crews in California's rugged Sierra Nevada tightened their grip on Tuesday on a fierce blaze that has destroyed a dozen homes and threatened thousands more as it raged for an 11th day through drought-parched timber west of Lake Tahoe.

The so-called King Fire, which authorities say was deliberately set on Sept. 13, has charred more than 89,500 acres in two national forests, but officials said crews had managed to carve containment lines around 35 percent of its perimeter as of midday Tuesday.

That figure was nearly double the extent of containment reported a day earlier, and authorities also lifted evacuation orders for residents in the tiny, hard-hit community of White Meadows.

Twelve homes and nearly 60 outbuildings were destroyed there last week, and some 12,000 dwellings remained at risk in nearby communities, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

Still, there has been no loss of life and just four people reported hurt so far, all firefighters with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said.

"It's looking a lot better than it did three or four days ago," fire command spokesman Mike McMillan said. "We continue to make progress even when the weather is not in our favor."

While the fire's leading edge had crept to within 15 miles of Lake Tahoe, a line of granite mountain peaks west of the popular resort area formed a natural barrier that should help keep flames at bay, he said.

Rising humidity, diminished winds and cooler temperatures in recent days helped firefighters make headway and consolidate their gains, even after air moisture levels began to fall again, McMillan said.

A Pacific storm was forecast to move into the region later this week, which could bring a troublesome shift in winds but also some welcome showers, he said.

At the height of its fury last week, the King Fire ranked as the most menacing of nearly a dozen major wildfires across California. While the statewide fire threat has subsided, the King still topped a list of nine large blazes under full-scale attack throughout the Pacific Northwest, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho.

A 37-year-old man accused of starting the blaze was arrested last week on arson charges. He pleaded not guilty on Friday.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Eric Beech)