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State of emergency declared as two California coastal fires rage out of control [Updated]

August 14, 2009 |  2:18 pm

California's acting governor today declared a state of emergency in Santa Cruz County, site of one of two large coastal fires burning out of control and forcing residents to flee their homes.

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi issued the order because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was out of state attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The governor is expected to tour the fire zone in Santa Cruz County on Saturday.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, officials said two structures have burned in a 2,800-acre brush fire that has forced evacuations in the hillside communities north of Santa Cruz.


That fire, named the Lockheed fire, is being driven by heavy winds, and hand crews have experienced trouble reaching the fire lines. As a result, the fire is being mostly fought by air.

That fire started Wednesday evening 10 miles north of Santa Cruz, and the cause is still under investigation. More than 2,000 people were evacuated.

AccuWeather.com says that the gusty winds will continue at least through the weekend, giving little relief to firefighters.

"The rapid spread of the fire was aided by winds gusting to nearly 20 mph. The fire is burning in a heavily wooded, evergreen forest area," the forecast said. "The thick brush and rough terrain will make it difficult for ground fire control. Water drops via aircraft may be the best option at this time."

AccuWeather said the towns most at risk are Swanton, Davenport and Bonny Doon. The last major fire in that area was in 1948.

[Updated at 6:35 p.m.: Fire officials said this afternoon that the fire was moving closer to Bonny Doon and that more evacuations were possible as winds picked up. The blaze was 5% contained and was generating huge plumes of smoke over Monterey Bay.

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

Authorities issued evacuation orders Thursday that cover about 150 homes and ranches, most in the Cottonwood Canyon area.

About 1,600 firefighters are attacking the blaze, which started 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. It consumed about 20,000 acres over the last 24 hours.

According to a statement from Los Padres National Forest, "firefighters worked aggressively through the afternoon and night to prevent fire from reaching the Canyon area, conducting burn out operations to reinforce dozer lines along the ridges under challenging conditions. Later [Thursday] afternoon, the fire crossed Horse Creek within the San Rafael Wilderness creating a massive plume of smoke. Another massive plume was created as the fire moved east into Bates Canyon above Cuyama Valley, however, fire lines protecting homes in Cuyama Valley are holding."

The state of emergency is considered a first step in Santa Cruz County getting federal aid.

[Updated 9:26 p.m.: The Lockheed fire near Santa Cruz has been 15% contained, but still threatens homes, according to authorities.]

-- Steve Chawkins and Shelby Grad