1 of 3
Associated Press
Elmore County Sheriff's deputies issue a mandatory evacuation orders to residents of Featherville, Idaho, as the Trinity Ridge fire continues to burn on Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for some 350 homes in the area around Featherville due to thick smoke. (AP Photo/Idaho Statesman, Katherine Jones)

SAN FRANCISCO — Thousands of people have been told to leave their homes as a wildfire burning Sunday in thick forest threatened rural communities in far Northern California.

The fire that sparked around 11:30 a.m. Saturday has destroyed four homes and consumed nearly 19 square miles near the towns of Manton, Shingleton and Viola, fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said. About 3,500 homes spread out across a rural area along the border of Tehama and Shasta counties are threatened as the fire continues to expand, he said.

"A good majority are immediately threatened, and a good number are in the path of the fire," Berlant said Sunday. "We will be battling it hard today to protect as many of those homes as possible."

The fire's cause has not been determined, but officials said it started after a series of lightning strikes in the area.

No part of the blaze was contained Sunday afternoon, and fire activity had picked up, Berlant said.

John Cluff, 42, told the Redding Record Searchlight that he was forced to flee his home before the evacuations were issued. He went back for his dog about 3:30 p.m.

"The fire basically chased me out of the property," he said. "All I could see was black smoke and flames."

The Shasta County Sheriff's Department has declared a State of Emergency for the county, with evacuations expected to continue through Sunday. The agency also was closing some local roads.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation center in Redding, about 35 miles to the west of the blaze

Elsewhere in the West, fires also continued to rage.

In Idaho, about 1,100 firefighters worked to protect some 350 homes in the Featherville area under a mandatory evacuation as the Trinity Ridge Fire continued a slow approach toward the community.

"The fire will make it to Featherville," fire spokeswoman Mallory Eils said. "It's just a matter of when."

She said when that happens is hard to predict due to varying weather conditions.