Big California Wildfire Still a Potential Threat to Rural Homes

July 20, 2007

California firefighters have been working to stop a 28,346-acre wildfire from spreading in rugged Central Coast wilderness and posing a threat to rural homes, while rain aided the battle against an 8,250-acre forest fire near the Oregon border.

Authorities were waiting to see if winds would push the state’s biggest blaze as of Wednesday evening, dubbed the Zaca Fire, toward about 50 scattered homes in Los Padres National Forest in the interior of Santa Barbara County.

The fire was about four miles from the Peachtree Canyon community, which remained under an evacuation order, U.S. Forest Service fire spokeswoman Helen Tarbet said.

The blaze was “a potential threat to life and property” and several other small communities were urged to be ready to flee if necessary, a fire information statement said.

Ignited July 4, the fire has burned an area equal to more than 44 square miles. Containment was put at 35 percent.

Temperatures were moderate but firefighters struggled in steep, roadless terrain of the San Rafael Wilderness northeast of Los Olivos.

Winds were light but were expected to change direction and gust up to 20 mph at night.

The fire was heading toward areas of chaparral, oak and pine that last burned 40 years ago and in some cases had not burned for a century.

“It’s gobbling up tons and tons of fuel out there,” said Forest Service spokesman Jim Turner.

Aircraft dumped water on the fire’s eastern edge to block it from jumping a river and heading up steep slopes where it could move rapidly.

“It loves to go up,” Tarbet said.

Lines were dug at the ridge to prevent the flames from moving over and down toward oil fields, communities and ranches on the other side, Tarbet said.

The fire has cost an estimated $22.6 million to fight since it was started by sparks from grinding equipment being used for a pipe repair outside the forest.

In northeastern Los Angeles, a brush fire spread over 10 acres of hills in the Sun Valley area before it was knocked down. No homes were threatened, and one firefighter was hospitalized with heat exhaustion, said city fire spokesman Ron Myers.

In Northern California, overnight downpours helped keep an 8,250-acre fire in check near the Oregon border, where flames came within a half-mile of more than 300 homes in and around Happy Camp. The fire in the Klamath National Forest started on July 10 and has burned more than 13 square miles.

Firefighters were waiting until slippery roads in the steep terrain dried out before returning to the lines, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Jodi Marron said.

The blaze was about 15 percent surrounded.

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