Destructive wildfire nearly contained

June 21, 2008 5:18:49 PM PDT
A Northern California wildfire was almost fully contained Saturday after forcing thousands to evacuate, destroying several homes and closing a six-mile stretch of scenic Highway 1, fire officials said. The fire near Watsonville was 90 percent contained and could be surrounded by the end of the day, said officials of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It had charred 630 acres, or less than a square mile.

"We made some good progress over the evening and hope to have the same today," said department spokesman Paul Van Gerwen, a battalion chief.

However, evacuation orders remained in place Saturday for the roughly 2,000 people who fled their homes Friday. Some evacuees spent the night at an emergency shelter set up at a local school.

About 650 firefighters were working in hot, dry weather to contain the blaze, which destroyed as many as 15 buildings, including several homes, and closed Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County for hours, fire officials said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Van Gerwen said.

A thunderstorm brought cooler weather and moisture Saturday afternoon, but firefighters feared lightning could ignite more fires in the parched vegetation, Van Gerwen said.

It was the third major blaze to hit Santa Cruz County in the last month. A 520-acre blaze charred destroyed 11 buildings in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a fire near Corralitos covered more than 4,200 acres and destroyed about 100 buildings.

In New Mexico, more than 700 firefighters battled blazes in the northern and southern parts of the state that have charred nearly 100 square miles, including more than 4,000 acres on a ranch owned by media mogul Ted Turner.

In a remote southeastern part of the state, three lightning-sparked fires have scorched almost 90 square miles of mainly desert landscape.

The largest fire, 20 miles southwest of Hope, doubled in size Friday because of gusty winds and has charred more than 40,000 acres, or about 62 square miles. Two other blazes, about a mile apart and 30 miles west of Roswell, have blackened more than 16,000 acres, and officials say the fires could merge.

In northern New Mexico, another fire that began as two blazes burned about 4,200 acres on Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch.

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