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Paradise on fire


More than 1,700 wildfires continued to rage across California as of Thursday morning. One of the biggest, the 56,000-acre Basin Complex Fire in Big Sur, is still spreading, prompting California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to order the evacuation of hundreds of homes. Large stretches of the Coast Highway are closed. At least 19,000 emergency firefighters are working to combat the blazes, which began June 21 when a lightning storm hit the state.

In better news, the Indians Fire, which had raged in the Ventana Wilderness mountains between Carmel Valley and the the Arroyo Seco, is expected to be contained today.

Most of the fires are in Central and Northern California and the Sierra Foothills, but a new one in the Santa Ynez Mountains, the Gap Fire, brought an early start to Southern California’s fire season. It was raging out of control in the Los Padres National Forest, about 10 miles from downtown Santa Barbara, and has knocked out power to 70,000 homes in the area. Last night, the county declared a state of emergency.

The fires have consumed nearly a half million acres statewide. Parts of Shasta County are under mandatory evacuation orders.

Here’s the link to the latest fire map from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The big fires in Napa and Solano counties are out, but the 37,900-acre Lightning Complex Fire — actually 40 separate uncontrolled fires — is only 40% contained in Mendocino County, forcing many to flee their homes. County officials have banned all fireworks this holiday season. The areas most affected are south of Ukiah and around the town of Navarro, in Anderson Valley.

The California National Guard was called into action by Schwarzenegger, the first time in 30 years their ground forces have fought fires.

So far there have been no reports of damage to vineyards or wineries, beyond smoke-related issues whose impact at this point is unclear.

This is a fluid situation changing from moment to moment, and I will try to report further developments.

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