Worst Fresno County fire in 17 years, other blazes in Calif., Oregon

Fires feeding on brush made tinder-dry by three years of drought conditions blackened more than 15,000 acres in Central California, fire officials said Friday.

Some 4,000 people were evacuated in a 5,000-acre blaze in the Sierra foothills northwest of Fresno in what one spokesman called 'the worst fire in Fresno County in 17 years.'


Meanwhile, another blaze had blackened 10,500 acres along the central California coast north of San Luis Obispo and a rash of lightning-caused fires broke out in eastern Oregon, the largest of which had consumed 1,500 acres near Wallowa-Whiteman National Forest

The forest and brush fire near Fresno began Friday afternoon in the Sierra foothills some 40 miles northwest of Fresno and consumed more than 5,000 acres in less than 12 hours. It forced the evacuation of seven small communities. No injuries had been reported.

Dave Akers of the California Department of Forestry called the fire in the Auberry area 'the worst fire in Fresno County in 17 years.'


He said that in addition to the mass evacuations, at least four structures were destroyed by the blaze. Those evacuated were first put up for the night at the Sierra High School near Clovis and the overflow was then sent to two other nearby schools, Akers said, although many of the evacuees went to the homes of friends.

A convalescent home near Auberry had to be evacuated, he said, but this was done without problems.

He said that there was no estimate when any kind of containment might be achieved. 'It's really out of control,' Akers said. 'All the firefighters can do for now is concentrate on evacuating people and then trying to protect buildings.'

Nearly 1,000 men and women were rushed to the scene as well as equipment from the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Forestry and firemen from every community in the area, including Fresno, and calls for help went out across the nation.

In the California coast fire, no injuries were reported among residents of the largely rural area or among the nearly 700 firefighters summoned from as far away as San Diego, the San Luis Obispo County Fire Department reported.

The fire started Thursday afternoon on the outskirts of Atascadero, about 15 miles of San Luis Obispo, and burned southeast toward the community of Santa Margarita. As of 7 p.m. Friday 10,500 acres had burned, but firemen hoped for containment Saturday.


No homes were lost, but some outbuildings were burned on the estate of the late L. Ron Hubbard, the writer and Scientology founder, near the community of Creston.

Further north, a 100-acre wildfire that broke out in California's historic Mother Lode country east of Coloma on Highway 49 briefly threatened homes, but was beaten by an army of firefighters.

A CDF spokeswoman said the fire was 90 percent contained by nightfall with full containment expected during the night.

Firefighters on the edge of the Oregon national forest, 20 miles south of Baker, battled four fires on U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and private land, Forest Service officials said.

'We're assigning a few more teams to Wallowa-Whitman,' said Larry Everson of the Northwest Fire Coordination Center in Portland. 'We don't have anything large in there yet, but we need their assistance.'

Fire crews were making good progress against more than 200 lightning-sparked wildfires across eastern Oregon.

'Things aren't looking too bad,' Everson said. 'But they may get a little wind Saturday.'

Conditions were hot and dry, with temperatures in the 80s and 90s and no precipitation. High temperatures were forecast to remain about the same through the weekend, with isolated thunderstorms predicted Saturday afternoon. The treat of thunderstorms will increase Sunday, the National Weather Service said.


Thousands of lightning strikes across the West Wednesday triggered the blazes, some of which smouldered for a day or two before being spotted.

'We have several new fires detected from Wednesday's storm,' said Wendy Evans of the Northwest Fire Coordination Center. 'But the good news is that a lot of fires haven't really increased in size. There is some hope of precipitation over the weekend in some areas.'

Crews were being pulled from the 1,800-acre Wild Horse fire in the Bureau of Land Management's Vale District after they contained the blaze, one of several fires in that area.

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