Thousands evacuate fast-moving California wildfire; homes burn

By Fred Greaves

COLFAX, California (Reuters) -A rapidly spreading wildfire burned homes and forced thousands to evacuate in two heavily wooded counties northeast of Sacramento in Northern California on Wednesday, generating a towering plume of smoke visible from at least 70 miles (110 km) away.

The so-called River Fire scorched 1,400 acres (566 hectares) in Placer and Nevada counties, with 1,000 acres burnt within the first two hours, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

The River Fire was less than 100 miles (160 km) south of the enduring Dixie Fire, which according to Cal Fire has consumed 278,000 acres and was only 35% contained three weeks after it started.

Social media images showed the Dixie Fire on Wednesday had destroyed multiple structures in one section of Greenville, a town of about 800 people in Plumas County.

The River Fire was not at all contained, but officials said they expected cooler overnight weather and a reversal of the wind direction to help.

At least four homes were destroyed in Colfax, a Placer County town of 2,000 people about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Sacramento, according to a Reuters witness. Officials said they would have an estimate of the property damage on Thursday.

At least 2,400 people had evacuated their homes in Placer County, and another 4,200 people were under evacuation orders in Nevada County, fire and law enforcement officials told a news conference.

Evacuation centers were established in both counties, and an animal shelter for pets was set up at a fairground.

“If you received an evacuation warning, please go. If you received an order, get out,” Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell told the news conference.

“Our hearts are with our communities, our friends, our neighbors who have been impacted by this incident,” Bell said.

Carrie Levine, a fire ecologist from nearby Grass Valley, said her family had evacuated even without an official warning because the fire was moving so fast.

“There’s a big column of smoke. It’s pretty dark, kind of like a purple, gray, eerie smoke. It’s in a pretty steep river canyon, and they really like to just blow up river canyons with the wind,” said Levine, who studies fire fuels and develops models for a private company.

Another expert urged people to evacuate because the area was particularly risky.

“In an analysis we did a couple years ago for an insurer, the Colfax/Auburn/Grass Valley area was one of the highest risk areas in the state for a catastrophic loss wildfire,” Crystal Kolden, a pyrogeographer at the University of California Merced, said on Twitter.

More than a dozen wildfires were burning around the state, which typically experiences peak fire season later in the year. California was on pace to suffer even more burnt acreage this year than last year, which was the worst fire season on record.

(Reporting by Fred Greaves in Colfax, California, and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California)

Most condors survive California wildfire that destroyed sanctuary

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – At least 90% of condors on the central California coast survived a wildfire that tore through their forest range and destroyed a sanctuary for the endangered birds, a wildlife group said on Wednesday.

Word that 90 of the 100 condors in California’s Big Sur had been accounted for came as home losses mounted from much larger blazes burning to the north in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A siege of dry-lightning strikes during a record heat wave sparked blazes that have raced through coastal redwood forests, destroying hundreds of homes and burning California’s oldest state park in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Cooler temperatures for a second straight day helped firefighters battle the largest blazes, as state wildfire authority Cal Fire reported 1,700 houses and other structures burned in fires that have killed seven people.

There were no condors inside pens at the sanctuary when it was destroyed last week, but 10 free-flying birds are missing and four nesting chicks are unaccounted for, said biologist Kelly Sorenson, who is hopeful they may be alive.

“They often nest in redwood trees high off the ground and redwood trees are quite fire resistant,” said Sorenson, executive director of the Ventana Wildlife Society, which ran the sanctuary and is raising funds to rebuild it.

As biologists hunted for signals from the condors’ radio transmitters, fire authorities began going through burned communities to quantify the number of homes destroyed.

“We anticipate that number to grow substantially in the coming days and weeks,” Governor Gavin Newsom told a news briefing. “Once the fires are suppressed and we get back in and start seeing repopulation we’re likely to discover additional fatalities.”

Over 120,000 people remained under evacuation orders and some like Bryan Miller learned their homes had been lost.

“I have one remaining picture of my parents,” said Miller, 31, who stuffed the photograph in a backpack as he fled the fire that burned his studio in Brookdale, one of 538 homes and structures destroyed in the Santa Cruz mountains fire.

Across Northern and Central California over 15,000 firefighters from around a dozen states battled dozens of fires sparked by the barrage of over 14,000 dry-lightning strikes that have scorched an area larger than the state of Delaware.

Newsom pointed to the CZU fire, the largest in recorded history in the area’s coastal rainforests, as a consequence of rising temperatures.

“This is again another testament, a demonstrable example of the reality, not just the assertion, the reality of climate change in this state,” he said.

In the north Bay Area, nearly 1,000 homes and structures, many in farms and vineyards, were incinerated in the wine country of Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties.

The so-called LNU Lightning complex fire, the third-largest in California history, jumped to 33% containment.

In the south Bay Area evacuation orders were lifted for communities across four counties where the state’s second largest fire in history was 25% contained after burning an area larger than Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler)

California ‘Tasmanian devil’ fire kills 2 firefighters, thousands flee

A firefighter watches flames advance up a hill towards homes as crews battle the Carr Fire, west of Redding, California, U.S. July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

By Fred Greaves

REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) – A fast-growing northern California wildfire killed a second firefighter on Friday after high winds drove it into the city of Redding, prompting mass evacuations, destroying scores of homes and threatening some 5,000 other dwellings and businesses, officials said.

Flames raging in California’s scenic Shasta-Trinity area erupted late Thursday into a firestorm that jumped across the Sacramento River and swept into the western side of Redding, home to about 90,000 people, forcing residents to flee for their lives.

Firefighters and police “went into life-safety mode,” hustling door to door to usher civilians out of harm’s way, said Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

Erratic winds blowing with gale force on Thursday night whipped the blaze into a frenzy, creating fire tornadoes that uprooted trees and tore into structures. “It was like a Tasmanian devil,” McLean told Reuters.

Some 37,000 people remained under evacuation orders on Friday, as flames continued to burn in pockets of the city’s west side, he said.

CalFire reported 65 structures destroyed by the blaze, but McLean called that tally a “placeholder” figure that would grow significantly, with the number of homes lost likely to run into “the hundreds” as the scope of devastation was fully assessed.

Nearly 5,000 homes were listed by CalFire as threatened.

Cal Fire firefighter Zach Hallums watches as fire burns in a canyon below homes as crews battle the Carr Fire, west of Redding, California, U.S., July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Cal Fire firefighter Zach Hallums watches as fire burns in a canyon below homes as crews battle the Carr Fire, west of Redding, California, U.S., July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves


The Carr Fire’s footprint grew by 60 percent overnight and by Friday morning had scorched 44,450 acres (18,000 hectares), CalFire officials said. The blaze was just 3 percent contained as ground crews, water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers battled the flames for a fifth day.

A curtain of smoke and flames loomed over low-slung buildings in Redding early on Friday, with forecasts calling for wind gusts of 25 miles (40 km) per hour and temperatures of 110 Fahrenheit (43 Celsius).

“When you’re dealing with temperatures that high, it’s really, really hot heat,” said Cal Fire spokesman Scott Kenney in a phone interview. “Stress, as far as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, are really serious situations that a firefighter can get into, so the tactics kind of get hindered by temperatures that high.”

The Carr Fire was one of nearly 90 large blazes burning nationally, most of them across the American West. One of those prompted the closure of much of Yosemite National Park in California.

Wildfires have blackened an estimated 4.15 million acres (1.68 million hectares) in the United States this year. That is well above average for the same period over the past 10 years but down from 5.27 million acres (2.13 million hectares) burned in the first seven months of 2017, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.

Roads out of Redding, about 150 miles (240 km) north of Sacramento, were jammed overnight as motorists tried to escape the flames, social media postings showed. Interstate 5, which runs from the Mexico border to Canada, crosses through the city.

The blaze on Thursday killed a bulldozer operator working with fire teams to clear brush around the fire. A member of the Redding Fire Department was also reported killed on Friday. A Redding hospital said it had treated eight people, including three firefighters.


Rob Wright, 61, and his wife stayed to fight off flames with a high-powered water hose.

“We were fortunate enough that the wind changed hours ago and it is pushing the fire back,” said Wright at about 1:15 a.m. local time. “We are just waiting it out … crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.”

Video and images posted on social media showed flames engulfing structures, as an orange glow lit up the night sky.

A Red Cross employee told local ABC affiliate KRCR-TV some 500 people took shelter in an evacuation center at Shasta College.

More than 3,000 customers had lost power in the area, according to utility PG&E.

The Carr Fire was one of three fierce blazes threatening large populated areas.

Cal Fire said the Cranston Fire, about 110 miles (177 km) east of Los Angeles had blackened 11,500 acres (4,650 hectares) and was only 3 percent contained. The Ferguson Fire near Yosemite, which has charred 45,911 acres (18,500 hectares), was 29 percent contained.

A 32-year-old man was charged with setting the Cranston fire along with eight others. Brandon N. McGlover faces a potential life sentence if convicted of the charges and is being held on a $1 million bond.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Tea Kvetenadze in New York and Makini Brice in Washington, Writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and James Dalgleish)

Lighter winds early this week may help battle against California wildfire

Firefighters keep watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills and canyons outside Montecito, California, U.S., December 16, 2017.

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – Lighter winds expected in California early this week should help firefighters in their battle against one of the largest and most destructive wildfires in the state’s history, the National Weather Service has said.

By late on Sunday, more than 8,500 firefighters had contained about 45 percent of the fire in Southern California. Dubbed the Thomas fire, it began Dec. 4 and has scorched 270,000 acres (109,000 hectares) along the scenic Pacific Coast north of Los Angeles.

Its size is approaching that of the 2003 Cedar blaze in San Diego County, the largest wildfire in state history, which consumed 273,246 acres and caused 15 deaths.

While wind and low humidity will still create dangerous fire conditions, “improving weather conditions should allow firefighters to make progress on the fire” on Monday and Tuesday, the National Weather Service said on Twitter.

Officials said calmer winds also helped make Sunday one of their most productive days yet battling a blaze that has been fueled by fierce Santa Ana winds sweeping in from eastern California deserts.

“We’re just hoping to make it home for Christmas,” Bakersfield Fire Department Captain Tim Ortiz said Sunday at a recreation center in Santa Barbara serving as a staging area and base camp for more than 3,000 firefighters.

The fire has destroyed more than 1,000 structures and threatened 18,000 others. Centered less than 100 miles (160 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, it has forced more than 104,000 people to evacuate or seek shelter.

On Sunday firefighters paid their respects during a funeral procession for Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson, 32, who died of smoke inhalation and burns on Thursday while battling the flames near the Ventura County community of Fillmore.

Firefighters lined spots along the procession route that ran from Ventura County to his home near San Diego.

So far it has cost $123.8 million to battle the Thomas fire, which has forced many schools and roads to close for days and created poor air quality throughout southern California.

“I’ve seen people who have lost everything,” said Larry Dennis, 60, who sought refuge at a Ventura shelter Sunday after the blaze inundated the region with smoke and turned nearby hillsides red. Several areas of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties also saw evacuation orders lifted Sunday, Cal Fire said.

Five of the 20 most destructive fires in recorded history have ravaged the state in 2017, according to Cal Fire. The cause of the Thomas fire remains under investigation.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

At least 10 killed by wildfires in California wine country

A DC-10 aircraft drops fire retardant on a wind driven wildfire in Orange, California, U.S., October 9, 2017.

By Marc Vartabedian

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) – A spate of wildfires fanned by strong winds swept through northern California’s wine country on Monday, leaving at least 10 people dead, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and chasing some 20,000 people from their dwellings.

The deaths marked the first wildfire-related fatalities in California this year, according to state officials, and are believed to represent the largest loss of life from a single incident or cluster blazes in the state in about a decade.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, encompassing some of the state’s prime wine-making areas, as the blazes raged unchecked and engulfed the region in thick, billowing smoke that drifted south into the San Francisco Bay area.

He later extended the declaration to include four more northern California counties and Orange County in Southern California.

An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017. California Highway

An aerial photo of the devastation left behind from the North Bay wildfires north of San Francisco, California, October 9, 2017. California Highway Patrol/Golden Gate Division/Handout via REUTERS

Sonoma County bore the brunt of the fatalities, with seven fire-related deaths confirmed there, according to the sheriff’s department. Two others died in Napa County and one more in Mendocino County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

Details on the circumstances of those deaths were not immediately available from either CalFire or local officials. But KGO-TV in San Francisco, citing unnamed California Highway Patrol officials, described one of the victims as a blind, elderly woman found dead in the driveway of her home in Santa Rosa, a town in Sonoma County.

Two hospitals were forced to evacuate in Sonoma County, state officials said.

Thousands of firefighters battled wind gusts in excess of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) that have rapidly spread 15 separate wildfires across some 73,000 acres in northern California since erupting late Sunday night, according to CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

About 1,500 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed throughout the region, Ken Pimlott, director of CalFire, said at a news conference.

A separate wildfire on Monday torched at least a half-dozen homes in the affluent Anaheim Hills neighborhood of Southern California’s Orange County, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents there, authorities said.

Firefighters work to put out hot spots on a fast moving wind driven wildfire in Orange, California, U.S., October 9, 2017.

Firefighters work to put out hot spots on a fast moving wind driven wildfire in Orange, California, U.S., October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

That blaze erupted along a freeway off-ramp and spread quickly in gusty winds to scorch at least 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) in a matter of hours, fire officials said.

Still, the fire in Orange County paled in comparison to one of the fiercer blazes in northern California, the so-called Tubbs fire, which by mid morning had scorched about 25,000 acres (10,117 hectares) in Napa and Sonoma counties, an area world-famous for its vineyards.

One evacuee, John Van Dyke, recalled standing in his pajamas near the 101 Freeway in Santa Rosa, watching a hillside in flames from the Tubbs Fire, when police pounded on his door in the mobile home park early on Monday, telling him to flee.

“When I got in the car to leave, a whole section of the mobile park was in flames,” he said. “It scared the hell out of me.” At least 5,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders in Santa Rosa alone, accounting for about a quarter of the region’s residents displaced by the fires.

San Francisco authorities issued an air quality alert due to smoke from the fires, which residents said they could smell since early in the morning.

“You can’t see anything, the smoke is very dense,” Fred Oliai, 47, owner of the Alta Napa Valley Winery, told Reuters by telephone. He said he has not been able to get close enough to his vineyards since he was evacuated to see if flames reached his 90-acre property.

In addition to potential damage to vineyards from fire itself, experts say sustained exposure to heavy smoke can taint unharvested grapes, and Oliai said wine makers in the area are nervous.

“We got our grapes in last week, but others still have grapes hanging,” he said.

The region threatened by fires overlaps an area accounting for roughly 12 percent of California’s overall wine production by volume but also where its most highly valued grapes are grown, said Anita Oberholster, a professor of viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis.

So far this year, some 7,700 wildfires in California have burned about 780,000 acres statewide as of Sunday, CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

About a dozen people lost their lives in a series of fires that swept San Diego County and other parts of Southern California in October 2007. Ten people perished the following August in the Iron Alps Fire Complex in northern California’s Trinity County, including nine killed in a helicopter crash.


(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Keith Coffman in Denver and Gina Cherelus and Joseph Ax in New York; Writing Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Brown and Diane Craft)


Firefighters make progress on California wildfire despite heat

A 747 SuperTanker drops retardant while battling the Ponderosa Fire east of Oroville, California, U.S. August 30, 2017.

(Reuters) – Firefighters made progress in surrounding a Northern California wildfire on Thursday despite searing heat, a day after the blaze triggered evacuation orders for hundreds of local residents.

The so-called Ponderosa Fire has charred nearly 3,600 acres (1,457 hectares), about 85 miles (135 km) north of the state capital of Sacramento, since it broke out on Tuesday, officials said.

It was 30 percent contained on Thursday, up from 10 percent the day before, officials said, even though temperatures in the area approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).

The fire is one of several blazes in California as the state bakes in high temperatures this week. Authorities have warned the heat could fuel the existing blazes and help spark new ones.

Flames consume a garage as the Ponderosa Fire burns east of Oroville, California, U.S. August 29, 2017.

Flames consume a garage as the Ponderosa Fire burns east of Oroville, California, U.S. August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Noah Berger

Authorities on Wednesday gave evacuation orders to residents of 500 houses and 800 outbuildings that were threatened by flames from the Ponderosa fire east of the town of Oroville.

“One of the issues we ran into on this fire is there’s a lot of people who didn’t actually evacuate,” said Paul Lowenthal, a spokesman for the team of 1,600 fighting the blaze.

The evacuation orders remained in place on Thursday, and officials opened shelters to house people.

The fire in steep and rugged terrain has destroyed 10 homes and 20 outbuildings, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has said.

John Ballenger, an Oroville resident, was arrested this week on suspicion of causing the fire by starting a campfire outside a designated area and allowing it to spread out of control, officials said. He is set to appear in court on Friday.

It was not clear on Thursday evening if he had been charged. A representative for the Butte County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment.


(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)


California crews hold wildfire in check, let more residents go home

Wildland Firefighters battle the Bridge Coulee Fire, part of the Lodgepole Complex, east of the Musselshell River, north of Mosby, Montana, U.S. July 21, 2017. Bureau of Land Management/Jonathan Moor/Handout via REUTERS

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – California authorities battling a massive wildfire near Yosemite National Park lifted evacuation orders on Sunday for more residents but said firefighters may need almost two more weeks to fully contain the blaze.

The Detwiler Fire was 45 percent contained, a slight improvement from Saturday, after burning 76,250 acres (30,857 hectares) and more than 130 structures, including 63 homes, since it broke out on Monday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

Evacuation orders were lifted by midday Sunday for much of the historic gold rush era town of Coulterville and nearby areas as firefighters completed firelines to contain the blaze, Cal Fire said in a statement.

More evacuation orders were lifted for residents of nearby affected areas on Sunday evening.

A chimney stands amidst remains of a home destroyed by the Detwiler fire in Mariposa, California U.S. July 19, 2017.

A chimney stands amidst remains of a home destroyed by the Detwiler fire in Mariposa, California U.S. July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

About two-thirds of the 5,000 people who had been ordered to leave their homes have been allowed to return, Scott McLean, a Cal Fire spokesman, said by telephone.

The almost 4,800 firefighters battling the blaze expect to contain it fully by Aug. 5, with temperatures forecast to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) this week complicating the fight, he said.

“Hopefully we’ll see it (contained) before then,” McLean said. “We’re making pretty good progress.”

There have been no injuries reported from the Detwiler fire, named for the road where it erupted. Its cause is being investigated.

Yosemite National Park has remained open as the fire has burned to the west, but smoke has clouded the views of its world-famous landmarks.

The Detwiler Fire is one of 35 large fires in the United States, almost all in the west, the National Interagency Fire Center said on its website.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock on Sunday declared a fire emergency because of wildfires burning across the state, fed by high temperatures and drought. Montana’s Lodgepole Complex fire expanded to about 226,000 acres (91,460 hectares) and was uncontained on Sunday, the fire center said.

The order allows Bullock to mobilize more state resources and the Montana National Guard in the fight against the fires, which have destroyed more than 10 homes so far.


(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Chris Michaud in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Nick Macfie)


Out-of-control California wildfire grows, forces schools to close

Firefighters prepare hose lines to attempt to hold a road during the Pilot Fire near Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino county near Hesperia, California, U.S.

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wildfire burning out of control in mountains and foothills east of Los Angeles mushroomed more than 50 percent overnight, forcing authorities to order three school districts to cancel classes due to heavy smoke and dangerous conditions.

More than 900 firefighters were battling the so-called Pilot Fire, which has charred some 7,500 acres of bone-dry tinder and brush in the San Bernardino Mountains since it broke out around noon on Sunday.

“We feel it is in the best interest of safety that we keep our students and staff at home,” the Silver Valley Unified School District, which oversees nine schools in Mojave Desert, said in a statement on its website.

Also closing campuses on Tuesday were the Apple Valley and Hesperia school districts in those high desert communities some 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

More than 5,000 homes were under evacuation orders from the Pilot Fire, a highway and several roads were closed and smoke advisories were issued for the Mojave Desert area, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

No homes had been destroyed but Cal Fire said the blaze was only 6 percent contained as of Tuesday morning.

Some 400 miles to the north, the famed Highway 1 along the California coast was reopened to residents, one day after authorities were forced to close it in both directions due to the threat from the Soberanes Fire.

That blaze, which erupted on July 22, has already blackened 67,000 acres in the Big Sur area, destroying 57 homes and 11 outbuildings.

A bulldozer operator died on July 26 when his tractor rolled over as he helped property owners battle the flames, the sixth wildfire fatality in California this year.

Authorities have traced origins of the blaze to an illegal campfire left unattended in a state park about a mile from Highway 1. No arrests have been made so far.

As of Monday, more than 4,800 firefighters battling the flames had cut containment lines around 50 percent of its perimeter.

Firefighters are making gradual progress against the blaze as wildfire season in the western United States reaches its traditional peak, intensified by prolonged drought and extreme summer heat across California.

The conflagration is one of 35 major wildfires that have charred half a million acres in 12 states, mostly in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by David Gregorio)

California wildfire near Big Sur coast steered away from homes

A firefighter stands on steep terrain while fire crews create fire breaks at Garrapata State Park during the Soberanes Fire north of Big Sur, California,

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Crews battling a deadly wildfire burning well into its second week near California’s Big Sur coast have carved buffer lines around a quarter of its perimeter, steering flames more deeply into the forest and away from populated areas, officials said on Wednesday.

The gradual but steady progress being made against the so-called Soberanes blaze comes as wildfire season in the western United States was reaching its traditional peak, intensified by prolonged drought and extreme summer heat across the region.

The 13-day-old conflagration near Big Sur is one of nearly 30 major wildfires reported to have scorched roughly 700 square miles (1,813 sq km) in 12 states, mostly in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

“It’s bad now and it’s going to get worse,” AccuWeather long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

Authorities said on Tuesday they had traced the origins of the Soberanes blaze to an illegal campfire left unattended in a state park about a mile from the famously scenic coastal drive known as Highway 1, south of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Since erupting on July 22, the fire has blackened nearly 46,000 acres (18,600 hectares), destroyed at least 57 homes and claimed the life of a bulldozer operator who died when his tractor rolled over as he helped property owners battle the blaze.

He became the sixth wildfire fatality in California this year.

Efforts to quell the Soberanes fire have been complicated by steep, rugged terrain and persistently hot, dry weather, said Erik Scott, a spokesman for the fire command.

As of Wednesday morning, a firefighting force that has grown to more than 5,500 had managed to hack through enough unburned vegetation to carve containment lines around 25 percent of the fire’s perimeter, up from 18 percent a day earlier.

With the fire now largely hemmed in on its northern flank, closest to communities that were threatened, the blaze is moving primarily in a southeasterly direction deeper into the Los Padres National Forest, Scott said.

Some evacuation orders have been lifted, but fire officials said about 300 residents remained displaced and about 2,000 structures were listed as threatened. Several popular California state parks and campgrounds also were closed.

Another fire, burning north of the San Francisco Bay Area along the Yolo-Napa county line, has scorched 4,000 acres of grass and oak woodlands since it erupted on Tuesday, prompting evacuations of a campground and residential community. Dubbed the Cold fire, that blaze was listed as just 5 percent contained.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and James Dalgleish)

California firefighter crews battle wildfires in hot, windy weather

Inmate firefighters file off to construct a fire break while battling the Soberanes Fire in Carmel Highlands, California,

(Reuters) – Crews battling a deadly wildfire in rugged drought-stricken terrain north of Los Angeles on Wednesday face a second consecutive day of scorching weather and erratic winds that could hinder their efforts.

The National Weather Service forecast of near-triple-digit temperatures and 20 mph wind gusts for the area where the so-called Sand Fire, a wildfire that erupted 40 miles north of Los Angeles, has destroyed 18 homes and claimed one life in five days.

As of Tuesday night, some 3,000 firefighters hacked through dense brush and chaparral and had extended containment lines around 25 percent of the fire, which has charred 59 square miles since Friday, officials said.

The single death in the Sand Fire was identified on Tuesday as Robert Bresnick, 67, whose body was found Saturday inside a burned-out car parked in a driveway, said Ed Winter, assistant chief Los Angeles County coroner.

Winter said a friend Bresnick was visiting was forcibly removed by firefighters as flames closed in on them, but Bresnick insisted on staying put. He was last seen alive walking toward the car, apparently having changed his mind after it was too late.

About 300 miles to the north, a smaller fire raging since Friday between Big Sur and the scenic coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea continued to threaten some 1,650 properties after destroying 20 homes on Sunday. It remained 10 percent contained late on Tuesday, authorities said.

Some 2,300 firefighters were battling the blaze dubbed the Soberanes Fire, which has scorched nearly 20,000 acres since Friday, at the edge of the Los Padres National Forest, a state fire agency spokeswoman said.

The forecast in that area was expected to also reach near triple-digit temperatures and included erratic winds that could hamper firefighting efforts.

Acting California Governor Tom Torlakson, who is filling in for Jerry Brown while he is at the Democratic convention, declared on Tuesday a state of emergency for Los Angeles and Monterey counties where the fires are located.

The causes of both fires were under investigation, but they are among some 3,750 blazes large and small that have erupted across California since January. The higher-than-normal total has collectively scorched more than 200,000 acres, state fire officials said.

The biggest so far was last month’s Erskine Fire, which consumed 48,000 acres northeast of Bakersfield, killing two people and destroying about 250 structures.

By comparison, the 2003 Cedar Fire ranks as the biggest on record in the state, burning more than 273,000 acres and killing 15 people.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Michael Perry and Raissa Kasolowsky)