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Evacuations Urged In Rural Southern California

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ A massive fire in the Los Padres National Forest grew an additional 11,500 acres Sunday, making it one of the largest wildfire in modern California history, officials said.

Authorities closed a highway and encouraged residents of about two dozen rural Ventura County homes to evacuate while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Ventura County. The move clears the way for state government assistance with costs related to the fire.

``It's growing, and it may become the granddaddy of them all before this is over with,'' Maeton Freel, a fire information officer with the U.S. Forest Service told the Ventura County Star.

The fire had burned 199,588 acres of wilderness, or 312 square miles. It was 75 percent contained, with more than 3,000 personnel working on it.

A 45-mile stretch on Highway 33, between Ventucopa and Wheeler Gorge, was closed to all traffic, including residents, fire spokesman Larry Comerford said.

Most of the homes in the recommended evacuation zone are surrounded by alfalfa fields and are near the Deal and Rancho Nuevo Canyons in the Dick Smith Wilderness, where the fire has spread, fire spokesman Ed Linquist said.

It was 75 percent contained. Full containment has been predicted for Sept. 7. The fire has cost more than $83 million to fight since it was ignited July 4 by sparks from equipment being used to repair a water pipe.

In 1932, the Matilija Fire scorched about 220,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest, near where the Zaca fire has burned since it began on July 4, fire officials said.

The 2003 Cedar Fire near San Diego burned more than 273,000 acres, destroyed 4,847 structures, and killed 15 people.

Meanwhile, a fast-moving wildfire in Central Idaho driven by high winds was burning less than two miles away from homes ranging from summer cottages to million-dollar houses, officials said Sunday.

Gov. C.L. ``Butch'' Otter ordered residents of about 100 homes to evacuate.

The fire had burned through 11 square miles of grasslands, sagebrush and forest about eight miles west of the resort area of Ketchum, fire spokesman David Olson said.

In western Montana, at least one home was destroyed Sunday by a new wildfire that forced the evacuation of a 300-home subdivision east of Billings, authorities said. Officials did not know the size of the fire, but said it had destroyed at least one home and one outbuilding.

Up to 100 homes between another wildfire and the community of Evaro were still evacuated. Three mobile homes near Frenchtown were destroyed when the fire exploded Thursday night.
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