Los Padres Forest Fire Continues to Threaten Homes

By: Scott Lindlaw AP
By: Scott Lindlaw AP

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A massive wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest continued spreading north and east Monday, relieving the danger to the storied coastal town of Big Sur but forcing residents of another community to stay away from their homes for a third day.

Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders, first issued Saturday morning, remained in place for more than 200 homes in the rural Cachagua community near the northern boundary of the forest. The
blaze, which already has charred 187 square miles and destroyed 27
homes, was about 1½ miles from the residential area, according to
the U.S. Forest Service.

Firefighters had a strong fire line there that they expected to hold, keeping the flames from reaching the more populated Carmel Valley, said Tacy Skinner, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

On the southwest border of the blaze, which was 61 percent contained, firefighters were in cleanup mode Monday. The Pacific Coast Highway fully reopened ahead of schedule a day earlier, and
residents and business owners were settling back in after three weeks of evacuations.

Also Monday, a large cleanup effort was under way in the eastern Sierra Nevada town of Independence, where a weekend mudslide on
fire-scarred land forced residents to evacuate their homes.

The mudslide, in an area that was devastated by wildfires last year, damaged about 50 homes and caused the temporary closure of California Highway 395, about 90 miles east of Fresno.

Severe thunderstorms Saturday set off the slide 300 yards wide and up to three feet deep, said Carma Roper, spokeswoman for the Inyo County Sheriff's Department. The mud oozed across Highway 395, prompting a detour, and some mud came within a half mile of the Los
Angeles Aqueduct, which supplies much of Los Angeles' water.

On Monday morning, the California Highway Patrol had reopened one lane, escorting vehicles through the affected mile-and-a-half stretch of highway.

The rain also caused some problems for the area around the Piute Fire, which has charred the Sequoia National Forest for the past three weeks. The moisture helped calm the flames, but contributed to flooding in Lake Isabella, located in a canyon in the southern Sierra Nevada.

While officials planned to lift the last of the fire evacuations related to that blaze, evacuation orders remained for 75 Lake Isabella homes threatened by flooding.

The Piute fire was 68 percent contained after burning 57 square miles.

Cooler weather around the state also allowed officials to lift evacuation orders in the fire-ravaged Butte County towns of Paradise and Concow.

The fires there, which burned 83 square miles and destroyed 50 homes in the area, weren't threatening any homes Monday morning, but firefighters were watching for flare-ups as hotter weather was expected to return in the afternoon. The blaze was about 70 percent contained, officials said.

"There's still fire activity and there's still firefighters doing a lot of work, but the winds have not picked up. The last few days have been very very good for firefighters, they've been able to get a handle on the fire because of that," said John Welsh, a spokesman for the state fire department in Butte County.

At least one person was found dead after the blaze swept through Concow. Officials have not released the person's identity, and the cause of death had not been determined.

In the southern extension of the Los Padres forest near Santa Barbara, another wildfire there also benefited from more favorable weather. Fire crews had contained 90 percent of the fire and expect to complete the containment lines on Wednesday, U.S. Forest Service spokesman David Daniels said.

Fifty-five homes remained under evacuation warning. "We're starting to get close," Daniels said.

A pair of blazes burning in the foothills west of Lake Tahoe were sending plumes of smoke toward the alpine resort area. The soot was sporadic, but air quality was so bad it prompted the cancellation of the annual Donner Lake Triathlon.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said 288 blazes were still burning around the state, most of them in the mountains ringing the northern edge of the Central Valley.

So far this fire season, flames have blackened nearly 1,300 square miles and destroy about 100 homes across California. Most of the blazes were sparked by a June 21 lightning storm across the northern part of the state.

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

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