July 7, 2008

Two Fires Still Raging in Northern California

Two fires still raging in Northern California

LOS ANGELES, July 5 (Xinhua) -- Driven overnight by "sundowner" winds that gusted to 50 mph, two major wildfires were still raging in Northern California on Saturday, charring more land and threatening nearby residents, authorities said.

In the city of Goleta, one fire grew to more than 8,300 acres ( about 3,361 hectares), but by Saturday morning was 24 percent contained, fire officials said.

The blaze has destroyed four outbuildings and led to the evacuations of at least 2,663 homes. About 850 other homes remain on standby for evacuation, according to fire officials.

At the southern end of the national forest in the area, officials extended a mandatory evacuation order to cover 5,000 homes in and around the city of Goleta, while residents of 1,400 other homes were warned to be ready to leave on short notice, said Santa Barbara County spokesman Jim McClure.

In Big Sur, a tourist attraction, nearly 2,000 firefighters were trying to stem the advance of the two-week-old blaze that has blackened more than 107 square miles (171 kilometers) in the northern end of the Los Padres National Forest and destroyed 20 homes.

The stubborn Big Sur fire that started June 21 remained only 5 percent contained Saturday morning, officials said.

The two fires are more than 330 burning in the state, down from a peak of 1,783 that have ignited since June 20, many caused by lightning strikes. So far, fire officials said more than 510,000 acres (206,550 hectares) from Nevada to the Pacific Ocean have burned, destroying 34 homes and 32 outbuildings.

At a 6 a.m. local time firefighter briefing, officials said Saturday was crucial to gaining an upper hand on the fire and protecting homes to east before another night of sundowners winds started to blow.

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