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Wildfire Threatens California Redwoods - 2002-07-26

Fifteen-hundred firefighters are battling a blaze in California that threatens some the state's historic redwood trees. Authorities say the fire has burned 22,000 hectares and is five percent contained. Residents have been evacuated from nearby communities, 200 kilometers north of Los Angeles.

More than 1,000 people have been forced from their homes, but fire information officer Ashlee Schultz said just one structure a small resort has been lost to the blaze. "So far, zero injuries, zero fatalities and no more structures or people, so we're lucky," she said.

The spokeswoman added that 200 structures are threatened.

Authorities are worried about groves of sequoias, historic redwood trees, in the section of forest known as the Giant Sequoia National Monument. The redwoods reach heights of 90 meters, with trunks nine meters wide. Some of the trees are 2,000 to 3,000 years old.

Ms. Schultz said that, luckily, none has yet been affected. "A lot of the monument is actually being burned, but only a small portion of the monument actually has giant sequoias in it," she said.

However, flames have come within two kilometers of the redwood groves.

Wednesday, authorities announced the arrest of a 45-year-old woman who allegedly told a store clerk she had started an illegal campfire that burned out of control.

Drought conditions have led to serious wildfires through the Western United States. Some were sparked by lightning and others started by arsonists. Critics say 100 years of vigorous fire suppression has led to unnaturally thick undergrowth. This year it is tinder-try, which makes the current fires especially volatile and destructive.