July 9, 2008

Thousands Flee California Wildfire

Wildfires swept through northern California's Butte County Tuesday, sending thousands of people fleeing to safety, authorities said.

The evacuations began before dawn after one fire destroyed a rural home, and widened when it hit the small communities of Concow and Camelot and headed toward Paradise, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Officials said 50 structures had been destroyed by Tuesday night, but it wasn't clear how many were homes, the Bee said.

Randy Totten, a Concow resident who believes he lost his home and a kennel that held 35 dogs, told the Bee he and his girlfriend were sleeping when authorities knocked on their door.

They said the fire was on top of us, he said. "They said, 'Get in your car and leave.'

We lost everything.

Other fires headed toward the Feather River where firefighters hoped to keep them from jumping the banks and continuing the five miles to Paradise, which lost dozens of homes to another fire just weeks earlier.

Gail Bartels-Bedner thinks she lost her trailer in Concow to the fire.

Flames were 20 feet high across the street, she said. We were the last to leave. Nobody woke us. Our clothes were hot. And ashes were flying.

Earlier, firefighters had said they were gaining momentum Tuesday in battling wildfires in Goleta and Big Sur and were trying to slow the flames' approach toward homes.

However, 100-degree temperatures were predicted for the higher reaches of the fire zone, causing concerns among firefighters, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A lot of the guys are tired, said Capt. Eli Iskow, of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. We have to make sure they don't push themselves too hard.

But they were encouraged about slowing down the fire's approach to ranches and homes in the 9,000-acre Gap fire in Goleta, Iskow said.

In Big Sur region, fire officials told residents they could begin returning to their homes Tuesday. The fire burned more than 80,000 acres and is 23-percent contained, officials said.