Huge Fire Grows, Governor Declares State Of Emergency

A massive fire in the Los Padres National Forest grew an additional 11,500 acres Sunday, making one of the largest wildfire in modern California history, officials said.

Authorities closed a highway and encouraged residents of about two dozen rural Ventura County homes to evacuate while Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Ventura County.

The move clears the way for state government assistance with costs related to the fire.

"It's growing, and it may become the granddaddy of them all before this is over with," Maeton Freel, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service told the Ventura County Star.

The Zaca Fire's northeast flank burned within a mile of Highway 33 in the Pine Mountain area, said Freel, while its western edge jumped across firelines dug by bulldozers.

In the south, the fire burned about 10 miles away from Carpinteria and crews cleared out fire breaks with the help of offshore winds.

"The east side has been holding steady at a fuel break for 2 days, but if it jumps it'll be heading toward Ojai, eating about 1,000 acres an hour," Freel said.

A 45-stretch on Highway 33, between Ventucopa and Wheeler Gorge,
was closed to all traffic, including residents, said fire spokesman Larry Comerford.

Most of the homes in the recommended evacuation zone are surrounded by alfalfa fields and are near the Deal and Rancho Nuevo
Canyons in the Dick Smith Wilderness, where the fire has spread, said fire spokesman Ed Linquist.

The fire had burned 199,588 acres of wilderness, or 312 square miles.

It was 75 percent contained, with more than 3,000 personnel working on it.

Full containment was predicted Sept. 7. The fire has cost more than $83 million to fight since it was ignited by sparks from equipment being used to repair a water pipe.

Fire officials anticipated lower humidity on Monday, which could hamper their efforts to build fire breaks.

Nearly 1,400 square miles of wilderness and forest lands in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern counties remained closed to visitors.

In 1932, the Matilija Fire scorched about 220,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest, near where the Zaca fire has burned since it began on July 4, fire officials said.

The 2003 Cedar Fire near San Diego burned more than 273,000 acres, destroyed 4847 structures, and killed 15 people.

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