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Gusty winds fuel California brush fires, hamper firefighters

August 15, 2009 |  7:51 am

Lockheed Fire threatens homes

Firefighters this morning were battling several large brush fires across California, including a wind-driven blaze in the Santa Cruz Mountains that was threatening several towns and forced thousands to evacuate.

Gusty winds continued to hamper efforts to fight the brush fires, and weather forecasters said the conditions should continue through the weekend.

The greatest danger is posed by the blaze burning north of Santa Cruz, which has destroyed two structures and consumed more than 2,800 acres and is 15% contained. Named the Lockheed fire, the blaze is being driven by heavy winds, and hand crews have experienced trouble reaching the fire lines. As a result, the fire is mostly being fought by air. That fire started Wednesday evening and is threatening Swanton, Davenport and Bonny Doon. 


The last major fire in that area was in 1948. Officials said the blaze is marching toward populated areas along Highway 9. 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to tour the fire zone today, and the state has declared a state of emergency for Santa Cruz County.

A second large fire roaring through Los Padres National Forest about 26 miles east of Santa Maria has grown, forcing some residents to flee. 

About 1,600 firefighters are attacking the blaze, which started last Saturday. The cause is unknown. Firefighting efforts have been hampered by inaccessible terrain and volatile winds. Officials said the Santa Barbara County blaze, named the La Brea fire, has grown to 67,092 acres and is 10% contained.

Smaller fires were also being battled elsewhere in Northern California this afternoon including near the Central Valley town of Tracy and in Yuba County near Lake Francis. A fire in Trinity County was expected to be contained today.


-- Mike Anton and Shelby Grad

Photo: A firefighter in Santa Cruz County. Credit: Associated Press
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