Phil Mccarten  /  Reuters
Firefighters work Tuesday to contain the fire in the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County, Calif.
updated 9/27/2006 11:41:57 PM ET 2006-09-28T03:41:57

Fire crews guarded homes and ranches Wednesday as a stubborn wildfire that has jumped containment lines crept within a half-mile of hundreds of dwellings.

More than 220 fire engines streamed into mountain communities threatened by the massive blaze. Crews cleared brush near houses and positioned equipment and hoses to fight the slow-moving flames.

The fire, which began on Labor Day and has burned about 233 square miles, was burning in dry brush and dense stands of pine trees in Los Padres National Forest, about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

After jumping fire lines on Tuesday, the blaze slowed in the cool overnight weather. But erratic winds could cause it to flare later, said Larry Comerford of the U.S. Forest Service.

“They“ll come from one direction one time and then they’ll whip the other direction,” he said.

Nearly 4,000 firefighters, aided by bulldozers and aircraft, concentrated on the northwestern edge of the fire.

Residents of Lockwood Valley, Pine Mountain Club, Pinon Pines, Cuddy Valley, Camp Scheidek and Lake of the Woods were urged to evacuate, but many chose to stay in the remote Ventura County communities.

Two barns, an unoccupied cabin and two camp trailers burned, Comerford said.

No occupied homes have been lost to the fire, which has become one of the largest and longest-burning wildfires in state history. Overall containment was just 42 percent.

Pat Martin, 61, fled her home in Lake of the Woods. Spending the night at a Red Cross shelter set up at a high school gymnasium, she feared her home would be damaged or destroyed.

“When you’re this old, how do you just start over?” Martin asked.

In Lockwood Valley, Kelli Herring remained with her horse, three dogs, seven alpacas and a desert tortoise. Firefighters guarded her house, which they had protected from approaching flames on Tuesday.

Herring, 49, said she had no intention of leaving.

“What safer place to be than with a bunch of firefighters?” she said.

The fire had turned 25 of her 43 acres of pine- and sage-dotted ranch land into a blackened wasteland marked by smoldering logs and branches.

“It made me cry this morning,” she said. “I’m shocked. It looks like a bomb went off. My pine trees look like matchsticks now.”

Also taking their chances were employees of Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife, the home of more than 100 exotic animals ranging from bears to lions that are used in show business.

Trainer Rick Clark said the facility didn’t have enough trained people to move the animals. He felt it was safer to stay at the 62-acre site.

The blaze has burned more than 148,884 acres of wilderness. It was ignited by someone burning debris. Firefighting costs have topped $45.5 million.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for Ventura County and the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the use of federal funds to cover some expenses.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Fire spreads


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