President Bush Set to Survey California Wildfires

By: Juliana Barbassa AP
By: Juliana Barbassa AP

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - President Bush was set to visit Northern California on Thursday to get a first-hand look at the wildfires that have ravaged hundreds of square miles and strained the state's firefighting resources.

The president was expected to travel to Redding to get a briefing on the wildfires, then take an aerial tour to survey fire damage in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to White House officials. Bush also plans to attend a private Republican fundraising event in Napa.

Firefighters continue to battle dozens of blazes around the state, many sparked by a massive lightning storm three weeks ago. More than 2,000 wildfires have burned nearly 1,400 square miles since June 21.

"The weather is stable - steady hot and dry inland," said Jason Kirchner, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. "Our folks are grinding away on these fires, making progress, but it's coming slow and it's a lot of work."

Fire crews pushed forward in areas of concern, including Placer County, where containment inched up to 55 percent Thursday for the
fire threatening the unincorporated rural community of Blue Canyon.
Firefighters there managed to build buffer lines through the mountainous terrain and protect homes, officials said.

But the heat and the dry vegetation are keeping alive the threat to Junction City, a small community in Trinity County.

"You're going to start seeing, as this drags on, that our crews are getting tired," said Kirchner. "We're really focused on getting them rested. We're looking at this as a marathon and not a sprint. We want to pace ourselves."

Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in 12 counties
affected by the wildfires and called in the California National Guard to help.

Despite the severity of the fire season in terms of acres burned, there have been few deaths and injuries so far compared to previous disasters, including what officials consider one of the worst series of fires in October 2003, during which 1,155 square miles burned. Those blazes killed 24 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

"Considering the number of acres that burned, there was so much more potential for injuries and fatalities than occurred," said Daniel Berlant, a state fire department spokesman.

A man whose body was found Friday in a burned-out house in rural
Butte County was identified Wednesday as 61-year-old Van Scott
West. Officials say West didn't heed evacuation requests from sheriffs' deputies.

"It's important that people listen," Berlant said. "When we put an evacuation notice out, there's a reason. People want to defend their property, but they're not trained, they don't have safety gear."

Three men and a teenager trapped by flames in a Northern California forest were rescued on a closed road by fire crews Wednesday and treated for burns, authorities said.

Jose Alcazar Fernandez, 25, received third-degree burns and was flown to a burn center in the Sacramento area. Sylvestre Carrillo, 25, and Miguel Alcazar Carillo, 24, were arrested for being in a closed area and then transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The teenager's name was not released. He was treated at a hospital for minor burns, ticketed for being in a closed area and released, said Jim Richardson, chief ranger at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

Richardson said their presence in an area known for clandestine marijuana plantations will be investigated as soon as the fire is extinguished.

Meanwhile, controlled burns designed to clear brush from the hills skirting the Big Sur coast were going well, officials said.

Mandatory evacuation orders remained in place Thursday for about
20 homes along the heavily wooded ridges near Carmel Valley, said
Ruby Urueta, spokeswoman with the Monterey County Emergency
Operations Center.

Another 200 houses were emptied in the nearby rural community of
Cachagua because of danger from a fire that has consumed nearly 200
square miles, and is about 61 percent contained, according to the
U.S. Forest Service.

The complex of fires in Butte County is 80 percent contained after burning through 85 square miles and destroying dozens of homes.

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


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