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Thousands Evacuated Due to California Wildfires - 2004-05-04

Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in California because of wildfires. Firefighters are battling three major blazes in the southern part of the state.

Unseasonably hot weather got the fire season off to an early start this year, several weeks ahead of schedule. Monday, 4000 homes were evacuated and by Tuesday, more than 5000 hectares had been scorched by separate fires.

Julie Hutchinson of the California forestry department said that more evacuations may be ordered. She offered this advice to residents. ?The situation changes rapidly,? she noted. ?Don't wait too long and don't underestimate it. If we say there may be evacuations pending, get ready then and be ready to go.?

Near Temecula [southeast of Los Angeles], Fire Captain Steven Diaz said that a blaze has burned some 1600 hectares. He said dry weather is the problem. ?And then adding the wind to that, that's what is driving this fire right now,? he added. ?It's real steep rugged terrain, and that also makes it difficult for firefighters to get into areas they need to be.?

Authorities say a man has been charged with negligence for setting the largest of the fires.