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A new outbreak of fires in the West

Firefighters grappled with a 6,500-acre arson blaze in California's Sierra Nevada foothills Saturday that forced 2,500 residents to flee, while crews struggled with hundreds of lightning-caused blazes in Idaho and Oregon.

The latest outbreak of fires in the West charred more than 50,000 acres in three states, including 36,000 acres of Idaho national forest.

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California Highway Patrol closed roads leading to a fire in eastern Fresno County that erupted along the San Joaquin River Friday afternoon and quickly spread, destroying five structures, including two homes.

About 2,500 people were forced to seek emergency shelter, according to the sheriff's department. At least 2,500 firefighters struggled in a pall of smoke and 90-degree temperatures but no injuries were reported.

Lightning storms that moved through Oregon and into neighboring Idaho at midweek touched off hundreds of blazes on national forest land in both states.

In California's Fresno County fire, residents from the hamlets of Auberry, New Auberry, Meadow Lakes, Alders Springs and Fall Mountain were ordered out of the area by sheriff's deputies late Friday. The flames burned close to the town of Auberry early Saturday forcing another evacuation of a few dozen people.

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A dense pall of smoke that hung over the Central Sierra for dozens of miles hampered efforts of air tankers and firefighters.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, Marily Reese, said there was no estimate on when the fire might be contained although an outer perimeter established by fire bosses along roads in the area was holding.

Several arson fires have been set in the Auberry area over the last two weeks and investigators said the current fire also appeared to be human-caused.

Among those displaced were the 153 residents of a convalescent hospital in Auberry, which also had to be evacuated during a wildfire in 1982.

The Idaho fires burned about 36,000 acres of Boise and Payette National Forests lands by Saturday night, including a pair of 6,500 acres near Weiser and McCall, but no structures had been burned. About 2,500 firefighters were on the lines with another 500 expected to arrive Sunday.

The most worrisome fire was the 400-acre Lowman blaze burning in timber and brush 60 miles northeast of Boise in the area of Idaho City and the town of Lowman, where precautionary evacuations of some cabins were ordered.

'It's hot and dry in that area and the fires are moving,' Steve Till of the Boise Interagency Fire Center said.

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In Oregon, 25 National Guard personnel were called out to battle a fire in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, one of hundreds of lightning-sparked blazes that spread across the eastern region of the state and burned 5,000 acres.

The Guard members augmented firefighters struggling with the Dooley Complex fire 20 miles south of Baker, which grew from 80 acres Friday to 1,800 acres of pine and conifer stands. About 300 firefighters were on the lines.

Lightning touched off more than 200 fires across eastern Oregon beginning Wednesday, including 110 blazes in the Wallaowa-Whitman National Forest.

Gusty winds, meantime, hampered efforts to mop up at the 'Glacier Complex Fires' in the Malheur National Forest, 22 miles east of John Day, which grew from about 500 acres Friday night to more than 1,600 acres Saturday.

In Central California, a blaze southeast of Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County was corralled after scorching 10,500 acres. Temperatures that dropped near the coast Saturday gave a boost to efforts to contain the fire, which officials believed was started Thursday afternoon by sparks from a motorcycle engine.

More than 1,000 firefighters prevented the blaze from spreading during the night and had the flames 80 percent contained with 18 miles of fire lines by Saturday morning. Full containment was expected at 6 a.m. Sunday, said California Department of Forestry spokeswoman Tish Keely.

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'If the weather holds in the low 90s, instead of the high 90s like yesterday, and the wind stays down, we'll be all right,' Keely said.

The fire burned through sparsely populated ranchland and officials did not call for evacuations, though a number of horses were tranquilized and moved into shelters away from the flames, Keeley said.

No homes were lost, but at least one hay-filled barn went up in flames and some outbuildings were burned on the estate of the late L. Ron Hubbard, the writer and Scientology founder, near the community of Creston.

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