Long-burning wildfire makes run near homes in California; 4 mountain towns told to evacuate

Wednesday, September 27th 2006, 6:27 am
By: News On 6

LOCKWOOD VALLEY, Calif. (AP) _ A stubborn wildfire burned within a half-mile of homes and ranches on Wednesday after jumping containment lines and prompting recommendations to evacuate four mountain towns.

The fire, which began on Labor Day, was burning in dry brush and dense stands of pine trees in Los Padres National Forest.

After jumping fire lines on Tuesday, the blaze slowed in the cool overnight weather. But erratic winds could cause it to flare later, said Larry Comerford of the U.S. Forest Service.

``They``ll come from one direction one time and then they'll whip the other direction,'' he said.

Nearly 4,000 firefighters, aided by bulldozers and aircraft, concentrated on the northwestern edge of the fire.

Firefighters were surprised Tuesday when the fire, which had been laying low after the end of weekend Santa Ana winds, suddenly jumped lines and burned 1,000 more acres.

The run prompted authorities to recommend evacuation of Lockwood Valley, Pinon Pines, Pine Mountain Club and Lake of the Woods _ remote Ventura County communities west of Interstate 5.

Two barns, an unoccupied cabin and two camp trailers burned, Comerford said.

No occupied homes have been lost to the fire about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles, which has become one of the largest and longest-burning wildfires in state history. Overall containment was just 42 percent.

Pat Martin, 61, fled her home in Lake of the Woods. Spending the night at a Red Cross shelter set up at a high school gymnasium, she feared her home would be damaged or destroyed.

``When you're this old, how do you just start over?'' Martin asked.

Dale King was helping firefighters clear brush around his home when flames roared across the edge of his 5-acre property.

``The house was vibrating. It sounded like a freight train in the yard,'' said King, 57.

``It was scary. I've never seen a wall of fire 200 feet high moving right at you and there's nothing you can do,'' he said. ``It makes you believe in the Lord, I'll tell you.''

The blaze has burned more than 148,884 acres, or 232.6 square miles, of wilderness. It was ignited by someone burning debris. Firefighting costs have topped $45.5 million.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for Ventura County, clearing the way for government assistance with costs related to the fire.