Wildfires force thousands to flee homes
Firefighters seek to contain four Calif. sites
DAVENPORT, Calif. - Thousands of firefighters battled wildfires across California last night, including a growing blaze that forced about 2,400 people to evacuate their homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Lockheed Fire, which started around 7 p.m. Wednesday, had scorched about 2,800 acres, or 4.4 square miles, in Santa Cruz County, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The blaze, about 10 miles north of the coastal city of Santa Cruz, threatened more than 1,000 homes and other buildings and was not contained by late afternoon.
Authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order yesterday for the entire community of Bonny Doon, which has about 2,000 residents and several wineries, said Julie Hutchinson, CalFire spokeswoman.
Everyone also has been ordered to leave the community of Swanton, where about 400 people live.
“It’s a significant fire that is burning in rural, inaccessible, steep terrain with vegetation that has been stressed by the drought,’’ Hutchinson said.
The blaze is about 3 miles from the site of last year’s Martin Fire, which burned 520 acres and destroyed 11 buildings in the Bonny Doon area that June.
There have been no reports of injuries or property damage related to the fire, whose cause is under investigation, said Daniel Berlant, CalFire spokesman.
Law enforcement officers went door to door yesterday as residents watered down their homes. They loaded bicycles, pets, computers, and other valuables into their cars and trucks.
Many had to evacuate last year when flames threatened the area.
Nancy Macallister said she was disappointed about the mandatory evacuation but said it’s reasonable.
“The fire’s big, the fire’s hot, there’s some rough terrain, and the afternoon winds should be coming this direction, so it makes sense. They’re trying to keep people safe,’’ she said.
A shelter for evacuees was set up in Santa Cruz, where Linda Lemaster arrived early yesterday after leaving her house on Last Chance Road near Swanton.
When she got a recorded call to evacuate, she grabbed some of her son’s paintings, photos, bedding, and some food, she said. Her boyfriend stayed behind to take care of the cats and property.
As she drove away, she saw thick smoke and flames.
“I thought of volcano lava the way it was moving in through the trees,’’ said Lemaster, 60. “If it had kept going like that, it would have headed right to my house.’’
Rachel Beauregard, co-owner of Beauregard Vineyards in Bonny Doon, said the winery is getting ready for the harvest.
“We’re really nervous right now,’’ said Beauregard, who had to evacuate yesterday. “Even if the vines don’t get burned, there’s the smoke-taint aspect. A big fire could hurt us either way.’’
Farther down the coast, more than 1,600 firefighters were trying to control a wildfire in northern Santa Barbara County that has grown to 56 square miles. More than 170 homes and ranches have been evacuated since the La Brea Fire started Saturday. It was about 10 percent contained yesterday morning.
A temporary emergency shelter was set up at a high school in New Cuyama, and there was a shelter for larger animals such as horses and cattle in Santa Maria.
In far Northern California, two separate wildfires forced the evacuation of more than 30 homes.
In Trinity County, about 25 homes were evacuated as gusty winds fed the Coffin Fire, which has burned about 1.9 square miles near Lewiston, said Mickie Jakez, CalFire spokeswoman. The mountain community 30 miles west of Redding is home to 1,300 people.
A 60-year-old woman - Brenda Eitzen of Los Molinos - was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of sparking the fire when she threw out a burning cigarette.
The blaze was 40 percent contained yesterday.
Farther east, a fire covering 26 square miles forced the evacuation of 10 homes about 10 miles northwest of Burney, which is 200 miles north of Sacramento.