California Fire Kills 1 as Heat Stokes Blazes in Western US

Total calm Saturday morning replaced the 50 mph gusts and forward progress of the fire was stopped at about 100 acres

What to Know

  • Dozens of fires are raging in California and across the American West, fueled by rising temperatures and gusty winds.
  • California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, citing "extreme peril" to people and property.
  • One person was killed in the fire along the California-Oregon border

A wildfire that raged through drought-stricken timber and brush near California's border with Oregon killed one person and destroyed multiple structures Friday before strong winds died down and brought relief for firefighters Saturday.

No other details were released about the death blamed on the fire that threatened 300 homes near Hornbook, a town of 250 people about 14 miles (22 kilometers) south of the Oregon border. It's not clear the flames burned homes or other structures like barns.

It was one of dozens of fires across the dry American West, fueled by rising temperatures and gusty winds. But total calm Saturday morning replaced the 50 mph (80.5 kph) gusts and forward progress of the fire was stopped at about 100 acres (40.5 hectares) or less, said county fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni.

"It's really given us a good opportunity to get in there and get some work done," Zaniboni said, cautioning that critical fire weather warnings would remain in effect until the evening.

Though the heat spreading from Southern California into parts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah threatened to worsen flames, a National Weather Service warning of extreme fire danger from heat and winds expired Friday.

On the California-Oregon border, the fire ignited Thursday and moved swiftly through the region that is home to many retirees, said Ray Haupt, chairman of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors.

"It moved so fast I'm not sure how much time lagged between the evacuation and when it hit Hornbrook," he said. "It hit there pretty quick. We know we've lost homes and lots of structures, including livestock and horses as well."

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, citing "extreme peril" to people and property.

Elsewhere in California, a massive blaze northwest of Sacramento had destroyed 10 homes, officials said. Firefighters had begun inspecting the fire zone, which covers an area nearly three times the size of San Francisco.

The fire, spanning 138-square-mile, was 50 percent contained by Saturday.

In central San Diego County, firefighters increased containment of a fire that rapidly spread over 400 acres (162 hectares), destroyed 18 structures and damaged eight, and a wildfire in the San Bernardino National Forest was holding at 1.5 square miles (404 hectares) and forced evacuation of about 700 homes in the mountain community of Forest Falls. 

Fires also burned on the Marine Corps' sprawling Camp Pendleton base in northern San Diego County.

San Diego Gas and Electric said nearly 1,700 customers were without power after the fire damaged the electric system.

In Goleta in Santa Barbara County, a new wind-driven fire Friday night burned at least 20 structures, including homes, and threatened hundreds more. Officials had said any residents on the mountain side of Cathedral Oaks should evacuate immediately downhill and away from the area as a precaution.

Video from news helicopters showed fire crews running along Interstate 8 in Alpine and trying to quell the flames that were spreading along the side of the freeway as a handful of homes were completely engulfed in flames.

In contrast, rain helped slow the growth of wildfires in Colorado that have burned dozens of homes. But the threat of a deluge raised the possibility of flooding at a stubborn blaze in the southwestern corner of the state.

Crews also had 50 percent containment of a southwestern Colorado fire that has blackened 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) north of Durango. Authorities said Saturday that afternoon storms could produce flash floods and mudslides in burn scars.

And in central Colorado's Park County, crews encircled a third of a spotty fire that forced the Buffalo Creek Wilderness to close. A stretch of busy U.S. Highway 285 between Fairplay and Antero Junction reopened Saturday.

Rain helped a fire in the heart of ski country that has destroyed three houses, including the home of a volunteer firefighter battling the flames near the resort town of Aspen. Gov. John Hickenlooper visited the area Friday.

It also offered relief in the southern Colorado mountains where a blaze has destroyed over 130 homes and forced the evacuation of at least 2,000 properties. The Spring Creek Fire became the third-largest in state history at 165 square miles (427 square kilometers).

In a Utah mountain area, a wildfire that destroyed 90 structures and forced more than 1,100 people to flee was growing, but fire officials hoped to gain more control after their work Friday. Many homes and cabins likely burned, while others may be sheds or garages.

The fire burned about 75 square miles (193 square kilometers) near a popular fishing reservoir about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Salt Lake City, according to the Utah Division Forestry Fire State Lands.

It forced a 35-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 40 to close since Wednesday, said Sonya Capek, a fire spokeswoman. The road reopened late Friday.

The evacuated residents were allowed to return home Saturday, but they were advised to remain on alert and be prepared to evacuate again if necessary. Officials believe human activity sparked the blaze, but an exact cause hasn't been determined.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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