Sun, Sep 21, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Weather helps crews make gains against US wildfire

KING FIRE:The worst of 11 major wildfires in California is threatening to destroy 12,000 homes and it has already charred 30,960 hectares of the El Dorado National Forest

Reuters, LOS ANGELES

Fire crews in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada seized on a break in the weather on Friday to slowly gain ground against a blaze threatening to destroy 12,000 homes as it roared for a seventh day through dry timber and brush west of Lake Tahoe.

More than 3,000 residents of those dwellings remained displaced, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) spokesman Larry Pendarvis said.

CalFire also reported the first property losses claimed by the so-called “King Fire,” an unspecified number of buildings damaged or destroyed in a tiny community called White Meadows.

The full extent of damage and the types of structures burned — whether they were homes or outbuildings or some of both — had yet to be ascertained, Pendarvis said.

Still, there has been no loss of life and just two people reported hurt so far — both of them firefighters who suffered non-life-threatening injuries earlier in the week, he said.

Now ranked as the most menacing of 11 major wildfires raging across the drought-parched state, the King Fire has charred about 30,960 hectares in the El Dorado National Forest, a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts northeast of Sacramento.

More than 5,000 firefighters were deployed against the blaze, backed by 15 water-dropping helicopters and a squad of airplanes dumping payloads of flame-retardant chemicals.

After battling to carve containment lines around 10 percent of the fire’s perimeter by Thursday, crews made gradual, but steady gains on Friday, though the official containment figure remained unchanged through the day, Pendarvis said.

Fire managers were expected to provide an update quantifying their additional progress yesterday morning, he said.

Firefighters were taking advantage of improved weather conditions, most notably higher humidity levels coinciding with an easing of the heat wave that has baked much of California for a week. Strong, erratic winds that had stoked the fire earlier in the week have subsided also, Pendarvis said.

While the leading edge of the blaze burned mostly away from populated areas, CalFire said about 21,000 structures were still threatened, including the 12,000 homes.

The King Fire was ruled an arson, and prosecutors on Thursday charged a man with deliberately starting the blaze on Saturday last week.

This year’s California fire season, which traditionally runs from May to October, is on track to be the most destructive on record, intensified at least in part by a record drought now in its third year, state officials say.

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