FELTON, Calif. Strong, erratic winds complicated firefighters attempts' to put down several fast-growing wildfires across Northern California, including a blaze that now enveloped more than 31 square miles and threatened 4,600 structures, officials said.
The winds spread the fire to the hills of the Butte College campus, where officials had set up an incident command center, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Joshpae White.
"The fire is jumping around quite a bit," White said. "It's flaring up in a lot of different areas."
At least 20 homes in Butte County were destroyed, and thousands of residents were forced to evacuate. The fire was only 15 percent contained Friday morning.
More than 1,500 Bonny Doon residents have been told to evacuate their homes in the heavily forested hills about 10 miles northwest of Santa Cruz since the fire broke out Wednesday afternoon. Among them was James Eason, 28, who lives with his quadriplegic father in a yurt, a nearly uninsulated wooden-framed structure covered in canvas.
"It's stressful and frustrating. It makes you anxious not knowing if you're going to have a place to go back to," James Eason said. "All of a sudden, with the fire, the yurt doesn't seem so bad. We've started to like it a whole lot."
About 900 firefighters were battling the wildfire, which grew to about 1 square mile and was about 25 percent contained. The fire flared just two weeks after another blaze two miles away destroyed at least three dozen homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Further south, another wildfire had charred more than 29 square miles in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County. It was nearly 40 percent contained Thursday evening.
In southeastern Colorado, a fire that started on a military training site jumped the Purgatoire River, a natural fire break, and was threatening eight nearby ranches.
About 242 firefighters were fighting the fire, which was burning on grass and pinon-juniper in the remote and rugged country. It had burned over 65 square miles and was not controlled at all, with gusting winds hampering efforts for containment.
Across the country, authorities in North Carolina issued an air quality advisory for Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham through Friday after smoke from a wildfire burning in a wildlife refuge drifted westward. The lightning-sparked blaze has burned more than 60 square miles in and around the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge, and was only 40 percent contained.
Authorities say without a massive rainstorm, firefighters can do little to extinguish the blaze and put an end to the smoky weather.