July 8, 2008

New Firefighting Crews Called in to Battle California Wildfires

New firefighting crews called in to battle California wildfires

LOS ANGELES, July 7 (Xinhua) -- New firefighting crews were called in Monday to battle a wildfire in Southern California in order to take advantage of weakening winds before higher temperatures and probably lightning storms arrive later this week, officials said.

The wildfire in Santa Barbara County, one of about 330 blazes still burning in California, has burned nearly 4,000 hectares and forced evacuation of over 2,000 homes since it started Tuesday night. Fire officials said the fire was 35 percent contained as of Monday morning.

Firefighters got some help from the cooler weather on Sunday, but temperatures are predicted to climb back by later this week, and weather forecasters say there would also be lightning storms in the area.

Officials called in five "hot shot" crews from Arizona and New Mexico, totaling 100 firefighters who will be dropped by helicopter in the Santa Ynez Mountains or hike in to thin brush and slow the fire's progress, according to U.S. National Forest Service spokesman Stanton Florea.

There have been nearly 20,000 firefighters from across California as well as other states on the fire lines since President George W. Bush declared the state of emergency in California more than one week ago due to the wildfires situation.

The fires have burned over 2,000 square kilometers of land and destroyed at least 69 homes throughout the state after first blazes were ignited by lighting storms two weeks ago. About 1,440 fires have been contained, but more than 330 still burned out of control.

Meanwhile, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Monday issued a health warning, urging people affected by smoke from the fires to stay inside and limit their physical activity.

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