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RefB: Wildfires grow in California


CNN

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Winds worry firefighters near Lake Tahoe




SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (CNN) -- Gusty winds forecast for Wednesday afternoon added to the worries of firefighters battling a wildfire near Lake Tahoe in California.

Winds were expected to pick up to 20 mph later Wednesday, with gusts to 25 mph, blowing flames in the direction of more homes, according to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

Thursday's winds at the south end of Lake Tahoe were forecast to be even stronger, possibly up to 45 mph, Myers said.

On Tuesday, wind gusts breathed new life into the wildfire near Lake Tahoe, causing the blaze to jump across a fire line and threaten additional buildings, a fire official said. (Watch residents flee as wildfire moves in their direction)

"We're going to attack those spots and get lines around those and not let them develop any further," said Capt. Chuck Dickson of California Interagency Firefighters Team 1. "That's what our game is."

The stronger winds caused sparks to ignite across California Highway 89 and set at least one house on fire, Dickson said.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for several South Tahoe neighborhoods, police said. About 250 homes and about 2,000 people were evacuated.

The Angora fire has destroyed at least 276 homes and buildings south of Lake Tahoe since it began Sunday afternoon, and another 1,000 structures remain at risk, according to Henry Renteria, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

The fire -- which has charred 3,100 acres -- was 44 percent contained Tuesday . Fire officials said they hoped for full containment by Sunday. (See the wildfire's hot spots)

In all, 1,889 firefighters, aided by seven helicopters and more than 100 fire engines, were involved in the effort, Dickson said.

Two minor injuries have been reported -- one Monday and another Tuesday, officials said.

Two U.S. Forest Service firefighters were trapped by the blaze. They had a fire tent with them and found a green meadow to pitch it in, officials said. The firefighters were not injured but likely would have died if not for their fire tent, officials said.

The National Weather Service has issued a smoke advisory, warning people of a thick layer of ash in the air that makes it extremely difficult to see and breathe.

Human activity started fire, official says

The fire -- burning just west of the town of Meyers -- was caused by human activity, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes. However, he said, it isn't known whether the blaze was deliberately set or if it started accidentally. (Watch how the Lake Tahoe fire is being called "the worst in years")

Jackie Faike, an information officer with the U.S. Forest Service, said, "It looks suspicious."

California declared a state of emergency for El Dorado County on Monday, freeing state funds for fighting the blaze and repairing infrastructure.

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who signed the declaration, called the fire a "wake-up call" for homeowners to obey a state law that requires a 100-foot "defensible space" between their homes and wildlands.

"If you're not doing that, you're running a risk for yourself, and you're running a risk for the firefighters that might come to protect that home," he said.

Blaze spread quickly

Garamendi said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was receiving hourly briefings on the fire during his official visit to Europe and has pledged all state support needed to fight the flames.

Wind gusts of up to 30 mph spread sparks Sunday afternoon, when the blaze grew from 700 acres to 2,000 in the space of three hours. Capt. Scott Swift of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District told the Los Angeles Times many of the homes were lost in the first half hour.

Many evacuating residents had to flee on foot, taking just what they could carry, said Lt. Kevin House, spokesman for the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.

Andrea and Hector Hernandez lost their home of 10 years. Hector Hernandez stayed until the last minute in an effort to save his home, but it got too hot and rescuers ordered him to leave. (Watch the couple's reaction when they see the fire has destroyed their home)

The couple was in shock after seeing the destruction; nothing but a heater was left behind by the blaze.

"That's your safe zone and now you don't have a safe zone," Andrea Hernandez said. "We're just kind of in limbo, so that's pretty hard right there, just not being able to come home."

CNN's Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.





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