Thousands Flee Wildfires Burning In California

OROVILLE (AP) — Wildfires barreled across the baking landscape of California, destroying a smattering of homes, forcing thousands to flee and temporarily trapping children and counselors at a Santa Barbara County campground.

Two major wildfires in California have sent nearly 8,000 people fleeing to safety.

About 4,000 people evacuated and another 7,400 were told to prepare to leave their homes as fire swept through grassy foothills in the Sierra Nevada, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Sunday.

As of about 8:15 p.m., the fire had burned about 5,600 acres, destroyed at least 10 structures and damaged critical infrastructure, leading Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency to provide assistance to local authorities.

The fire was at about 25 percent containment.

Fire spokeswoman Mary Ann Aldrich said additional homes were destroyed overnight. An inspection team is trying to determine the extent of the damage.

The area burning was southeast of Oroville, where spillways in the nation’s tallest dam began crumbling from heavy rains this winter and led to temporary evacuation orders for 200,000 residents downstream.

“It leaves you feeling like you can’t catch a break,” said Sharon Reitan, who sought shelter at an evacuation center with her boyfriend Sunday night.

They were in Oroville on Friday afternoon when the fire broke out and roads to their hillside home were blocked. They later saw photographs of their home burned to the ground.

“The road that we live on was hit hard,” Reitan said. “We’re in shut down mode right now, it’s so devastating.”

The fire was 20 percent contained. It was one of 14 wildfires across California that about 5,000 firefighters battled Sunday.

In Southern California, at least 3,500 people evacuated as two fires exploded in size at separate ends of Santa Barbara County and a third one threatened homes near a town in San Luis Obispo County.

One of the fires grew to 12 square miles (31 square kilometers), traversing a mountain range and heading south toward coastal Goleta.

There was minimal containment and flames shut down State Route 154, which is expected to remain closed for days. At least 20 structures burned, but officials didn’t say if they were homes.

Sarah Gustafson, who moved from Washington to California seven months ago, was out running errands when she saw the pillar of smoke rising near her home. She rushed to retrieve her six cats and then spent the night at a Red Cross shelter.

“It was terrifying,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “The sky was orange and black, you could see flames up on the ridge.”

About 90 children and 50 counselors were stuck Saturday at the Circle V Ranch and had to take shelter until they could be safely evacuated. Buildings have burned but officials weren’t yet sure if they were homes.

Crews were also using an air attack against another blaze about 50 miles north that exploded in size to 37.5 square miles (97 square kilometers). About 200 rural homes east of Santa Maria were evacuated after the fire broke out Saturday and was fed by dry gusts.

Some of the firefighters working to contain that blaze were sent to nearby San Luis Obispo county when a fire broke out Sunday and threatened numerous structures near the town of Santa Margarita. Officials said the fire burned at least 200 acres.

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