Residents Of Neverland Ranch, Nearby Homes Asked To Evacuate Because Of Calif. Wildfire

Tuesday, July 17th 2007, 3:12 pm
By: News On 6

LOS OLIVOS, Calif. (AP) _ Residents of several hundred homes, including Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, were asked to evacuate as a wildfire in the mountains of Santa Barbara's wine country threatened to shift in the wind, a fire official said Tuesday.

The 43-square-mile blaze in the Los Padres National Forest had come within about two miles of some homes when more than 1,000 residents living in and around Los Olivos were advised to leave Monday night, said Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow.

The notice covered a swath of land where Jackson's ranch sits. The pop star has not been living at the ranch and it was unknown whether residents or staff members had heeded the voluntary evacuation.

The fire, which was 35 percent contained, has charred 27,600 acres of dry and brittle wilderness since it started July 4. The steep, rocky terrain has complicated efforts to surround the blaze. Firefighters also have had to contend with spotty communications deep in the canyons.

``The problem is it's a wilderness fire. There's no access,'' said Mike Ferris, a spokesman for the National Incident Management Organization, which is overseeing firefighting efforts.

More than 2,000 firefighters were battling the fire in the San Rafael Wilderness, which was closed to visitors. Twenty aircraft and three dozen bulldozers were fighting the blaze, which was ignited by sparks from a grinding machine being used to repair water pipes.

In Northern California, a wildfire near the Oregon border threatened more than 300 homes in and around Happy Camp. The fire in the Klamath National Forest started on July 10 and had burned more than 11 square miles by Tuesday, but authorities said improving weather conditions were aiding firefighters as a light drizzle started to fall.

Nearly 1,200 firefighters were working to contain the fire, which was about 15 percent surrounded.

In eastern Oregon, a rapidly growing wildfire 5 miles north of the ranching town of Monument grew to 36 square miles, threatening about 20 homes, said Jeree Mills, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. The blaze was sparked by lightning Friday.

In Reno, Nev., firefighters hoped to reinforce fire lines near hundreds of homes before 35 mph winds were predicted to pick up on later Tuesday.

``We've got concerns this afternoon,'' said fire spokesman Steve Frady.

Homeowners were briefly evacuated Monday after the fire sparked up, but it burned toward U.S. Forest Service land and the Mount Rose wilderness area.

``Firefighters did a tremendous job in holding the fire from the residences,'' Frady said.

Mike Trudell, manager of the Caughlin Ranch Homeowners Association, said the fire might have started near a construction site, but he didn't know exactly where or the cause.

A lightning-caused blaze in north-central Washington's Okanogan County had grown to nearly 25 square miles Tuesday, destroyed one building and threatened about 50 homes. Residents of 10 of those homes were ordered to evacuate. The fire was about 10 percent contained.

In Montana, a wildfire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness grew to nearly 11 square miles and burned within two miles of an area with about 65 summer homes, fire spokesman Jack de Golia said. Residents were told they may have to leave on short notice.