2,000 Evacuated As Wildfire Tears Through California Forest

Sunday, September 16th 2007, 9:34 pm
By: News On 6

FAWNSKIN, Calif. (AP) _ Firefighters Sunday were battling two raging wildfires in Southern California that forced nearly 2,000 people to evacuate.

The larger blaze burned 15,433 acres _ about 24 square miles _ of dense, dry bush in the San Bernardino National Forest and was 12 percent contained. Authorities initially said the fire charred 18,000 acres but infrared mapping overnight showed the fire was smaller.

About 340 residents were under mandatory orders to leave the Fawnskin area and another 1,200 voluntarily left their homes in the resort community of Green Valley Lake, Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Beckley said.

However, cooler temperatures were expected to aid firefighters Sunday and the fire was headed northwest away from the homes, Beckley said. The fire was at least at least 10 miles from the nearest desert community.

``Right now, it doesn't appear they're in much danger,'' she said. ``The fire would have to travel quite a bit.''

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County on Saturday, clearing the way for state government assistance with costs related to the fire.

The fire, which remained under investigation, burned several outbuildings at a campground. About 1,080 firefighters were aided by 12 fixed-wing aircraft, 27 hand crews and 15 bulldozers.

In eastern San Diego County, a wildfire erupted Saturday northeast of Julian, leading to the evacuation of about 400 people from the nearby subdivision of Whispering Pines.

The Angel Fire, which grew to 1,000 acres overnight, was 20 percent surrounded. One vacation home was destroyed and five outbuildings were damaged. Full containment of the blaze, which was a little more than one square mile, was expected by Tuesday.

New evacuation orders were issued for ranches and campgrounds along a state road, but residents in southern Whispering Pines were allowed to return to their homes Saturday night.

Elsewhere, a 50-acre grass fire in Helena, Montana, destroyed one unoccupied house and a few outbuildings Sunday, and forced the evacuation of about 500 people from a mobile home park and several other homes, authorities said.

Two helicopters dropped water on the fire and 150 firefighters fought the flames on the ground, said fire spokeswoman Amy Teegarden.

The fire was largely under control by early evening, Teegarden said, and some evacuated residents were allowed to return home. No injuries were reported.