Wildfire forces hundreds to evacuate homes

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image kabc"><span>KABC</span></div><span class="caption-text">A fire burning in Santa Cruz County has forced hundreds of residents to evacuate.</span></div>
August 13, 2009 3:30:10 PM PDT
Thousands of firefighters battled wildfires across California on Thursday, including a growing blaze that forced about 2,400 people to evacuate their homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Lockheed Fire, which started around 7 p.m. Wednesday, had scorched about 2,800 acres, or 4.4 square miles, in Santa Cruz County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The blaze, about 10 miles north of the city of Santa Cruz, threatened more than 1,000 homes and other buildings and has not been contained at all.

Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order Thursday morning for the entire community of Bonny Doon, which has about 2,000 residents and several wineries, said CalFire spokeswoman Julie Hutchinson.

Everyone also has been ordered to leave the nearby community of Swanton, where about 400 people live.

"It's a significant fire that is burning in a rural, inaccessible, steep terrain with vegetation that has been stressed by the drought," Hutchinson said. "It's like having firewood in your fireplace that's dry and ready to burn."

The blaze is about three miles from the site of last year's Martin Fire, which burned 520 acres and destroyed 11 buildings in the Bonny Doon area in June 2008.

Law enforcement officers went door to door Thursday as residents watered down their homes, aiming sprinklers and hoses at the rooftops. They loaded bicycles, pets, computers and other valuables into their cars and trucks.

Many had to evacuate last year when flames threatened the area.

Nancy Macallister said she was disappointed about the mandatory evacuation but said it's reasonable.

"The fire's big, the fire's hot, there's some rough terrain and the afternoon winds should be coming this direction, so it makes sense. They're trying to keep people safe," she said.

A shelter for evacuees was set up in Santa Cruz, where Linda Lemaster arrived early Thursday after leaving her house on Last Chance Road near Swanton.

When she got a recorded call to evacuate, she grabbed some of her son's paintings, photos, bedding and some food, she said. Her boyfriend stayed behind to take care of the cats and property.

As she drove away, she saw thick smoke and flames.

"I thought of volcano lava the way it was moving in through the trees," said Lemaster, 60. "If it had kept going like that, it would have headed right to my house."

Further down the coast, more than 1,600 firefighters were trying to control a wildfire in northern Santa Barbara County that has grown to 56 square miles. More than 170 homes and ranches have been evacuated since the La Brea Fire started Saturday. It was about 10 percent contained Thursday morning.

A temporary emergency shelter was set up at a high school in New Cuyama, and there was a shelter for larger animals like horses and cattle in Santa Maria.

In far northern California, two separate wildfires forced the evacuation of more than 30 homes.

In Trinity County, about 25 homes were evacuated as gusty winds fed the Coffin Fire, which has burned about 1.9 square miles near Lewiston, CalFire spokeswoman Mickie Jakez said. The mountain community 30 miles west of Redding is home to 1,300 people.

Authorities arrested a person suspected of sparking the fire by throwing out a lit cigarette, officials said. The blaze was 40 percent contained Thursday, and firefighters hoped for complete containment Friday if winds cooperate.

Farther east, a fire covering 26 square miles forced the evacuation of 10 homes about 10 miles northwest of Burney. The Shu Fire was 70 percent contained Thursday morning.

Firefighters have nearly contained three other lightning-caused fires in Shasta and Lassen counties.

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