Firefighters Continue to Battle Raging Fires in Southern California

September 17, 2007

Firefighters continued to battle out-of-control wildfires that forced thousands of people out of their homes in California’s San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

An 18,000-acre fire burning in the San Bernardino National Forest started last week Friday, and was pushed by 20-mph winds through dense, dry brush. The fire is being called the Butler 2 fire because it was burning near the site of the first Butler fire, that was sparked by lightning in an area west of the lake.

By Saturday, the fire was only 5 percent contained and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County. This cleared the way for state government assistance with costs related to the fire.

The flames had burned several outbuildings at a campground and crept within a half-mile of some homes, said Jim Wilkins of the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

“It’s a very aggressive fire burning through fuels that haven’t been burned in 50 to 75 years,” Wilkins said.

About 1080 firefighters were aided by 22 foot crews, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and a DC-10 capable of dropping 24,000 gallons at a time.

Officials evacuated the entire resort community of Green Valley Lake and the Fawnskin area near Big Bear Dam, affecting some 5,000 people. The Camp Whittle, Hannah Flats, Big Pine Flats and Ironwood campgrounds were also evacuated. A voluntary evacuation was ordered for part of Lucerne Valley.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

In San Diego County a 500-acre wildfire erupted on Saturday northeast of Julian, leading to the evacuation of about 400 people from the nearby subdivision of Whispering Pines.

By nightfall, the flames had completely run through the subdivision. An empty vacation home was destroyed, said Jan Caldwell of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

About 500 firefighters battled the blaze, which was 10 percent contained.

Also on Saturday, crews mopped up a fire that charred 2,170 acres in a remote mountainous area east of San Diego. The blaze in the Cleveland National Forest was 95 percent contained, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Audrey Hagen said.

That fire was started by an illegal campfire last Wednesday afternoon and spread rapidly due to drought conditions.

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