Wildfire in Santa Cruz Mountains Prompts Some Evacuations

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) - More than 300 homes were placed under
mandatory evacuation orders Thursday, as a wind-whipped wildfire
burned out of control in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The blaze, first reported around 5:30 a.m., had grown to more than 2,200 acres by noon and was completely uncontained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames sent a thick cloud of smoke into the air that could be seen miles away.

The fire is in the mountain range that separates Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties - about 15 miles south of San Jose - and the rural area is dotted with homes.

As many as 10 structures were destroyed by the flames, and at least three schools in the area closed their doors Thursday because of the fire, according to Cal Fire. No injuries have been reported.

Santa Clara and Santa Cruz county officials said more than 60 residents had been evacuated, as well as 200 students from a summer
camp in the mountains. About 320 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders, according to Santa Cruz County spokeswoman Dinah Phillips.

Some were being taken to an evacuation center in Watsonville set up by the Red Cross.

Heavy brush and timber and winds gusting up to 40 mph were complicating efforts to fight the blaze. Officials estimated the fire would grow to 10,000 acres before being contained.

"The fuels are very heavy and dry from a pretty mild winter. With that wind added in as a factor, it's a pretty good recipe for fire," said Battalion Chief Mike Marcucci.

About 200 firefighters were on the scene and hundreds more were on the way from around Northern California, said Herman Dekruyff, assistant information officer with Cal Fire. Crews on the ground were being aided by four tanker planes dropping fire retardant and four helicopters dousing the area with water.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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