California Wildfires Force Some Residents To Leave Homes

Tuesday, July 17th 2007, 12:21 pm

By: News On 6

LOS OLIVOS, California (AP) _ Firefighters tackled a stubborn wildfire Tuesday in the mountains of Santa Barbara's wine country, with several hundred residents advised to leave their homes over concern that a shift in the wind could push flames their way.

Officials issued the voluntary evacuation notice _ the first since the fire began on July 4 _ Monday evening.

At the time, the 43-square-mile (111-sq. kilometer) blaze in the Los Padres National Forest had come within about two miles of some homes, said Santa Barbara County Fire Capt. Eli Iskow.

The notice covered a swath of land where Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch is located. Jackson has not been living at the ranch. It was unknown if residents or staff members had evacuated.

The evacuation affected more than 1,000 residents living in and around Los Olivos, a popular tourist spot northwest of Santa Barbara known for its wineries.

The fire has charred 27,600 acres (11,170 hectares) of dry and brittle wilderness. 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 blaze remained 35 percent contained Tuesday. Winds were light, but firefighters said they could kick up in the afternoon.

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 being used in the fight against 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 spread, with more than 300 homes in and around Happy Camp still threatened by the lightning-sparked blaze.

The fire in the Klamath National Forest started on July 10 and had burned more than 6,900 acres (2,792 hectares) 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.

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