50 buildings destroyed in Northern California fire

By Terry Collins

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 22 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

Brad McDonald, left, of Red Bluff, Calif., watches his parents, Brook McDonald and Linda McDonald pack belongings Monday Augh. 20, 2012, at their home in Paynes Creek, Calif., as the Ponderosa Fire burns in the canyon behind their home. "We're just getting pictures and stuff," Brook McDonald said. "We're just trying to get what we can't replace. If it goes, it goes."

The Record Searchlight, Andreas Fuhrmann, Associated Press

MANTON, Calif. — Firefighters in Northern California are making progress in containing a huge wildfire that has burned dozens of homes and other structures in remote, densely forested terrain.

The Ponderosa Fire, which has scorched about 38 square miles, was 50 percent contained Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The threat to homes about 35 miles east of Redding has dropped from 3,500 earlier this week to roughly 200 residences.

"There's still work to be done, but good progress is definitely being made," Berlant said Wednesday.

Fire crews assessing the rural area determined Tuesday that 50 buildings had been destroyed since it was sparked by lightning Saturday, Daniel Berlant said. It was unclear when the structures burned and how many were homes.

More than 2,100 firefighters were battling the fire near the remote towns of Shingletown, Manton and Viola, about 170 miles north of Sacramento.

As the wildfire raged near Lynn Rodgers' home of less than a year, the evacuated resident said Tuesday she remained optimistic — despite her growing frustration and fear.

"Yeah, but what can you do? Everything is in God's hands — and the firefighters," said Rodgers, who lives in Shingletown.

Like Rodgers, many other evacuees were anxious to hear the latest information from officials. Dozens of people, as well as about a dozen dogs, were waiting at a gym in Redding.

"The evacuation part? It's hard because I don't know what's happening to the house up there," said Jimmy Hall, a Shingletown resident whose family spent another night sleeping on cots.

"It's my dad's house. ... There's a lot of things in there," Hall added. "I've heard that my friend is still up there protecting his house. It's just hard. Look at how we're sleeping."

Eric Kiltz, an emergency services coordinator for the American Red Cross, said "there's more frustration than anxiety, and people, for the most part are grateful they have a safe and secure place to stay, even though their home may be lost."

The fast-moving fire is one of many burning across the West, where dry lightning has sparked fires in grass, brush and timber.

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced Tuesday that National Guard troops will be assisting with the firefighting efforts. The news comes a day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it is offering federal funds to help cover the cost.

The fire forced the closure of Highway 44 and other roads, and prompted the declaration of an emergency in Shasta County.

Elsewhere in California, a massive wildfire in Plumas National Forest continued to expand, helped by gusty winds. The blaze, about 120 miles north of Sacramento, has consumed nearly 98 square miles since it started at the end of July and threatens about 900 homes. It was 37 percent contained Wednesday.

In Mendocino County, the sheriff's office issued a mandatory evacuation for residents in Covelo due to a wildfire that has burned more than 18 square miles of thick timber and rugged terrain. One outbuilding has been destroyed and 45 homes were threatened by the blaze, officials said. The fire was sparked by lightning Saturday in a remote area, making it difficult for fire crews to access.

In Washington state, the National Weather Service warned about extreme fire danger in the eastern part of the state as forecasts called for thunderstorms with lightning.

Fire crews to the north still hoped to fully contain a week-old wildfire that has destroyed 51 homes and 26 outbuildings and damaged at least six other homes, fire information officer Mark Morrow said.

The fire, about 75 miles east of Seattle, has caused an estimated $8.3 million in property damage.

Lightning over the weekend also sparked smaller fires in Colorado, Idaho and Utah.

Collins reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers John S. Marshall and Terence Chea in San Francisco, Lynn DeBruin in Salt Lake City, Shannon Dininny in Yakima, Wash., and Jessie Bonner in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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