President Bush set to survey California wildfires
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
SAN FRANCISCO ” The White House said President Bush will visit Northern California on Thursday to get a first-hand look at the wildfires that have ravaged hundreds of square miles and strained the state’s firefighting resources.
The president was expected to travel to Redding to get a briefing on the wildfires, then take an aerial tour to survey fire damage in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, according to White House officials. Bush also plans to attend a private Republican fundraising event in Napa.
Firefighters continued to battle dozens of blazes around the state, most sparked by a massive lightning storm three weeks ago. The more than 2,000 wildfires that have burned nearly 1,400 square miles since June 21 have combined to create what officials are calling the single largest fire event recorded in California history.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in 12 counties affected by the wildfires and called in the California National Guard to help.
Schwarzenegger met Wednesday with Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, the chief of the U.S. Northern Command, to discuss federal and state military cooperation in fighting fires and the resources necessary.
“Given the size and intensity of the fire threat facing California, it is only through working together on a local, regional and national level that we will stay prepared to fight future fires,” the governor said in a statement.
Despite burning a record number of acres for a single fire event, there have been few deaths and injuries so far compared to previous disasters, including what officials consider one of the worst series of fires in October 2003, during which 1,155 square miles burned. Those blazes killed 24 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
“Considering the number of acres that burned, there was so much more potential for injuries and fatalities than occurred,” said Daniel Berlant, a state fire department spokesman.
The second-degree burn suffered Monday by a firefighter who fell into a hole created by tree roots in Butte County was among the most serious injuries. The only firefighter death so far has been attributed to a heart attack, Berlant said.
Among residents, accidents have also been few. A man whose body was found Friday in a burned-out house in rural Butte County was identified Wednesday as a 61-year-old man who didn’t heed evacuation requests from sheriffs’ deputies.
“It’s important that people listen,” Berlant said. “When we put an evacuation notice out, there’s a reason. People want to defend their property, but they’re not trained, they don’t have safety gear.”
Three men and a teenager trapped by flames in a Northern California forest were rescued on a closed road by fire crews Wednesday and treated for burns, authorities said.
Jose Alcazar Fernandez, 25, received third-degree burns and was flown to a burn center in the Sacramento area. Sylvestre Carrillo, 25, and Miguel Alcazar Carillo, 24, were arrested for being in a closed area and then transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The teenager’s name was not released. He was treated at a hospital for minor burns, ticketed for being in a closed area and released, said Jim Richardson, chief ranger at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
Meanwhile, controlled burns designed to clear brush from the hills skirting the Big Sur coast were going well, officials said.
Mandatory evacuation orders remained in place Wednesday for about 20 homes along the heavily wooded ridges near Carmel Valley, said Ruby Urueta, spokeswoman with the Monterey County Emergency Operations Center. Another 200 houses were emptied in the nearby rural community of Cachagua because of the fire danger.
The complex of fires in Butte County is 75 percent contained after burning through 84 square miles and destroying dozens of homes.
Also Wednesday, investigators looking into the cause of another fire in Butte County in early June, before the lightning storm, said they believed that blaze was intentionally set. The fire forced thousands of people in and around the town of Paradise to flee and destroyed more than 80 homes.
In Washington state, authorities lifted an evacuation advisory Wednesday for some 2,300 homes east of Spokane threatened by a blaze that has scorched 1,006 acres. The fire was 90 percent contained Wednesday, and crews hoped to fully contain it by Thursday morning.
Despite gusty winds and warm temperatures the past few days, fire crews continued to gain ground Wednesday on several blazes burning in eastern Washington.
A fire near Mount Adams has burned nearly 12 square miles in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and on the Yakama Indian Reservation. No homes were threatened.
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