Dozens of homes burn in N. California wildfires

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">A wildfire in Stockton torched about 30 homes. The fire started near Interstate 5. &#40;KGO&#41;</span></div>
July 19, 2008 4:02:45 PM PDT
Fires fed by raging winds raced across parts of Northern California on Tuesday, destroying dozens of homes, threatening hundreds of others and leaving a firefighter severely burned. The fires were concentrated in areas north and south of the state capital, while separate blazes burned near the coast.

A 2.5-square mile wildfire destroyed 21 homes and about 30 other structures in Palermo, a town of about 5,000 residents, said Joshpae White, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman. It was about 50 percent contained Tuesday night.

The community about 60 miles north of Sacramento was evacuated temporarily while at least 350 firefighters fought to protect homes. About 50 residents planned to spend the night at an evacuation center.

"The winds have significantly diminished, and that's helped our efforts quite a bit," White said Tuesday night.

A fire captain fighting a blaze just south of Sacramento was hospitalized with severe burns after the grass fire unexpectedly changed direction and became more intense.

Sacramento Metro Fire Department Capt. Jeff Lynch said the captain was heavily sedated in the University of California, Davis Regional Burn Center in Sacramento with third-degree burns to his hands and second-degree burns to his arms.

Also south of Sacramento, several fires that ignited along Interstate 5 in Stockton blew out of control. The fires damaged or destroyed 30 homes before they were extinguished Tuesday afternoon, city spokeswoman Connie Cochran said. About two dozen other homes suffered more minor damage, such as burned fences.

Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries in the Stockton blazes, Cochran said. Some residents were treated for smoke inhalation, but no one had been taken to a hospital, she said.

Firefighters backed by helicopters and air tankers hoped to make progress across the region Tuesday evening when the wind died and temperatures cooled, but winds were expected to pick up again Wednesday and Thursday.

Grass, brush and trees are in matchstick condition across California after the driest March, April and May on record.

Across the country in eastern North Carolina, winds whipped up a 64-square-mile wildfire, forcing the evacuation of 50 homes, officials said. The fire was sparked June 1 by a lightning strike and is about 40 percent contained, officials said.

Firefighters scrambled to strengthen and build about 20 miles of containment lines as the blaze approached the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.


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