Santa Cruz Wildfire Grows To 3,400 Acres, Jumps County Line


GILROY, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters took advantage of cooler temperatures and calmer winds Saturday as they battled a persistent
wildfire that has burned centuries-old redwood forests, displaced
hundreds of residents and destroyed at least 17 homes in the Santa
Cruz Mountains.

The blaze had grown to about 3,400 acres and jumped over the
Santa Cruz County line into Uvas Canyon County Park in Santa Clara
County early Saturday, said Wayne Rhoten, a spokesman for the
California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. The small
community of Sveadal near the park's entrance was evacuated.

The blaze was about 25 percent contained and was expected to grow to 4,000 acres before it was brought under control over the next week, Rhoten said. One firefighter suffered minor heat-related injuries.

The fire had destroyed 28 structures, and another 550 buildings were threatened in the mountainous region about 15 miles south of San Jose.

Smoke from the wildfire left a haze over the San Francisco Bay area that was expected to linger through the three-day Memorial Day

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the Santa Cruz Mountains Friday to assess the damage and had declared a state of emergency in Santa Cruz County to allow access to funds for the effort.

Schwarzenegger used the opportunity to push a proposal to charge
property owners in disaster-prone areas a surcharge on homeowners
insurance policies that would help pay for emergency response. The
fee would raise $100 million a year to pay for such things as firefighting manpower and equipment, he said.

"We are a place where we have to be ready for all kinds of disasters: fires, earthquakes, mudslides, all those kinds of things," Schwarzenegger said after a briefing at a fire command post in Gilroy. "We need more manpower, we need more aircraft, we need to update the aircraft that is outdated."

Almost 2,000 residents were under evacuation orders - more than 450 of them mandatory - while almost 2,700 firefighters and a swarm of tanker planes and helicopters continued dousing the area, said Dave Shew, a battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Shew said the cost of battling the blaze has risen to about $1.7 million and he expects the containment effort to continue through the weekend. "It's going to take a little time to build 9 miles of line with manual labor," Shew said.

The cause remained under investigation.

Meanwhile, the blaze left a trail of devastation. An unscathed bush of red roses was all that was left on the lot of one burned house with a sign in front that read "spoiled dogs live here."

The home overlooking Monterey Bay was surrounded by a charred
landscape where power lines lay melted across skeletons of bushes
and trees. The ground was covered with scorched vineyards and black
earth, an occasional puff of smoke rising from it.

Kathy Adams and Kenneth Rich hadn't even gotten a chance to return to their property before learning from news photographers who had taken pictures of their home that their house, built by Adams' father, was lost. The couple had gathered Friday afternoon at a market in Corralitos with other evacuees, exchanging news about their homes and neighbors.

"I feel a great sadness in my heart for everybody who is involved in this event," Rich said. "It's devastating."

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

AP-NY-05-24-08 1234EDT

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