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Four Firefighters Injured in Hard-Charging California Wildfire

  • Associated Press

A crew builds a containment line for a wildfire near Sheep Ranch, Calif., Sept. 12, 2015.

A crew builds a containment line for a wildfire near Sheep Ranch, Calif., Sept. 12, 2015.

Hundreds of people rushed to escape a massive wildfire charging across the tinder-dry Sierra Nevada foothills, and another fast-moving blaze broke out in Northern California on Saturday that caused burn injuries to four firefighters.

The firefighters, all members of a helicopter crew, got burned while battling the 400-acre blaze that began in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, and forced the evacuation of a town of about 1,800, said Daniel Berlant, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman.

The firefighters were rushed to a hospital burn unit for treatment; their conditions have not been released.

To the east, a blood-red sun pushed through a choking fog of smoke and ash that turned the grassy, tree-studded Sierra Nevada foothills about 70 miles southeast of Sacramento an eerie white. Away from the burned-out cars and smoldering remains of homes, Area residents who fled the flames rested at evacuation centers.

The blaze that ignited Wednesday exploded to more than 100 square miles in two days amid triple-digit temperatures and land parched from several years of drought. Crews increased containment slightly, but by noon the fire picked up again, fire officials said.

"It's very, very intense fire behavior. I mean, it's record fire activity,'' said Julie Rider, a spokeswoman with the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department.

The fire has destroyed at least 15 buildings and threatened some 6,400 more.

'It's depressing'

At the Calaveras County Fairgrounds, site of one of the evacuation centers, Joe Thomas rested on a folded tent near his pickup truck, one of dozens of parked cars and RVs. He described what he could save from the flames — and what he couldn't.

"I lost my business — it's all burned up — my shop, my house, 28 years of living,'' said Thomas, who lives near the community of Mountain Ranch. ``I've got to start all over. It's depressing.''

Thomas, who runs a tractor dealership and repair business, said he and his wife grabbed papers, his work computer, photos and their four dogs. But they left a goat, five ducks, six rabbits and more than 30 chickens behind.

"I turned the pens open and turned them lose. I just couldn't gather them up,'' he said. "All we want to do is go home. It's miserable.''

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, helping free up funding and resources in the firefight. There are 3,000 firefighters assigned to the blaze, and more were expected to arrive. Its cause is under investigation.

Meanwhile, another California wildfire threatened to sweep through an ancient grove of Giant Sequoia trees. The lightning-caused fire has charred 172 square miles and grew by nearly 40 square miles in the last week.

In a fight to save the trees, firefighters have been clearing lines with bulldozers around the Grant Grove and putting up sprinklers. Firefighters continued to fortify containment lines Saturday, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The grove is named for the towering General Grant tree that stands 268 feet tall. There are dozens of Sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada, and some trees are 3,000 years old.