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Calif. Wildfires Destroy Homes, Force Evacuations

FELTON, Calif. -- Evacuees from a wind-whipped blaze spent the night at a Red Cross shelter, not knowing if theirs was among the 10 homes torched by the blaze.

More than 1,500 Bonny Doon residents have been told to evacuate their homes in the heavily forested hills about 10 miles northwest of Santa Cruz since the fire broke out Wednesday afternoon. Among them was James Eason, 28, who lives with his quadriplegic father in a yurt, a nearly uninsulated wooden-framed structure covered in canvas.

"It's stressful and frustrating. It makes you anxious not knowing if you're going to have a place to go back to," James Eason said. "All of a sudden, with the fire, the yurt doesn't seem so bad. We've started to like it a whole lot."

Eason spent Thursday hanging out with other evacuees in a supermarket parking lot and had planned to spend another night at a Red Cross shelter, which was moved to a middle school in nearby Scotts Valley.

About 900 firefighters were battling the fast-moving wildfire that had grown to about 1 square mile and was about 25 percent contained. The fire flared just two weeks after another blaze two miles away scorched 6 1/2 square miles and destroyed at least three dozen homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The number of evacuees grew Thursday as authorities battling another wildfire ordered several thousand Butte County residents to leave their homes and closed all roads to Paradise, a town of about 30,000 residents some 90 miles north of Sacramento. An evacuation shelter was set up in nearby Chico.

The fire has burned at least 10 homes and nearly 30 square miles since it started Wednesday. It threatened more than 5,000 structures and was only 10 percent contained late Thursday, authorities said.

Fed by strong, erratic winds, the fire spread to the hills of the Butte College campus, where officials had set up an incident command center, said CDF spokesman Joshpae White.

"The fire is jumping around quite a bit," White said. "It's flaring up in a lot of different areas."

In recent days, hot temperatures, steady winds and tinder-dry vegetation have fueled a series of destructive blazes from Butte County to the San Francisco Bay Area to the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County.

Farther south, another wildfire had charred more than 28 square miles in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County. It was about 40 percent contained Thursday evening.

The so-called Indians Fire had spread east to a remote part of the Army's Fort Hunter Liggett base Thursday, but winds were driving the flames away from inhabited areas of the military base, said Manny Madrigal, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

In southeastern Colorado, a fire that started on a military training site jumped the Purgatoire River, a natural fire break, and was threatening eight nearby ranches.

About 242 firefighters were fighting the fire, which was burning on grass and pinon-juniper in the remote and rugged country. It had burned over 65 square miles and was not controlled at all, with gusting winds hampering efforts for containment. Calmer winds were predicted for Friday.

Across the country, authorities in North Carolina issued an air quality advisory for Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham through Friday after smoke from a wildfire burning in a wildlife refuge drifted westward. The lightning-sparked blaze has burned more than 60 square miles in and around the Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge, and was only 40 percent contained.

Authorities say without a massive rainstorm, firefighters can do little to extinguish the blaze and put an end to the smoky weather.

Associated Press writers Terence Chea and Jason Dearen in San Francisco, Don Thompson in Sacramento and Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.


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