Photos: Californians flee fires

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  1. A Cal Fire fire fighter holds a section of the fire line off Swanton Road, north of Davenport, Calif. on Saturday, Aug. 15. Lockheed fire has burned 2800 threatening some 1,000 structures and more than 2,000 people have been evacuated from local communities in the path of the fire. (Peter DaSilva / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Federally contracted fire fighters from Fire Storm Wildland Fire Suppression clear woodland along a fire break there are preparing to back fire in to the main body of the Lockheed on Saturday. The Lockheed fire threatens some 1,000 structures and more than 2,000 people have been evacuated from local communities in the path of the fire. (Peter DaSilva / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Cal Fire fire fighters cut down a dangerous fire ravaged tree along a section of the fire line off Swanton Road on Saturday. (Peter DaSilva / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Winds blow smoke from the Lockheed wildfire toward the Pacific Ocean near Bonny Doon, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 13. The fire burned out of control in a rugged region of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and firefighting reinforcements were expected on Friday. (Paul Chinn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Bonny Doon residents watch as smoke billows over a field in Santa Cruz County, Calif., on Thursday. (Noah Berger / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A helicopter draws water to drop on the Lockheed Fire in unincorporated Santa Cruz County, Calif., on Thursday. (Noah Berger / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A firefighter hoses down a structure in unincorporated Santa Cruz County, Calif., as a wildfire approaches on Thursday. (Noah Berger / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Smoke rises from the Lockheed wildfire at sunset along the Northern California coast near Davenport, Calif., on Thursday. (Peter Dasilva / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An air tanker drops fire retardant chemicals on the Lockheed wildfire on Thursday. (Paul Chinn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A horse evacuated from the Lockheed Fire zone spends a night at the Santa County Fairgrounds in Watsonville, Calif., on Thursday. More than a hundred animals, including llamas, alpacas and chicken, ended up at the makeshift shelter. (Noah Berger / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Spectators sit by Highway 1 near Davenport, Calif., at sunset Thursday, watching smoke and flames from the Lockheed wildfire. (Peter Dasilva / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 8/14/2009 11:27:56 PM ET 2009-08-15T03:27:56

Fire crews fanned out Friday across a parched California where wind-whipped wildfires have forced hundreds of people to flee their homes and led to an emergency declaration in Santa Cruz County.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Lockheed Fire has blackened 6.5 square miles of remote wilderness and prompted mandatory evacuations of the mountain communities of Swanton and Bonny Doon, which have about 2,400 residents and several wineries.

Chris Sokoloff, 40, an electrician who moved to Bonny Doon from Portland, Ore., a week ago, spent the night at an evacuation center in Santa Cruz.

"It's really hit home this morning, seeing all the ash on the vehicles," Sokoloff said. "I got a big red hockey bag and that's all I got right now."

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi declared a state of emergency for Santa Cruz County as a step toward getting federal assistance for local governments and private property owners.

"We're entering the height of fire season in California. We need to prepare," he said in Davenport, a coastal town near the Lockheed Fire.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was out of state attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, Eunice Shriver, was expected to tour the fire zone on Saturday.

The blaze, which started Wednesday about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz, was only about 5 percent contained, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

'It's like a fireworks explosion'
The fire sent huge plumes of smoke across Monterey Bay. It damaged two small structures and was threatening more than 1,000 homes and buildings. There have been no reports of injuries. The cause is under investigation.

Video: Fires leave thousands homeless The steep, rugged terrain and dense vegetation has made it difficult to contain the blaze, so firefighters are focused on keeping flames away from homes, said Jim Stunkel, a battalion chief from San Jose.

"As the brush ignites, it's like a fireworks explosion, and the sparks rain down where the ranch houses are," he said.

The fire was moving toward Bonny Doon and more populated areas around Highway 9. As winds picked up Friday afternoon, officials worried the gusts could ignite more fires and force more evacuations.

"The winds are going in so many different directions at the same time ... We can't build a line big enough," said Rick Hutchinson, a CalFire incident commander. "Unfortunately, if it does advance far enough to the southeast, it could ultimately lead to an evacuation of the Highway 9 area."

At the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville, animal care workers were assisting more than 100 animals rescued from the fire zone, including goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, alpacas, llamas and horses.

Hannah Good, a veterinarian who lives in Bonny Doon with her partner and two children, said workers had helped her evacuate her birds, cats, donkey, pony and dog.

"It was quite a scramble getting the animals and our family out of there," Good said. "Once I smelled the smoke, I knew we had problems."

More fires south and north
Farther down the coast, more than 1,800 firefighters were battling a wildfire around the Los Padres National Forest that had grown to nearly 105 square miles by Friday morning.

More than 230 homes and ranches in canyons and ridges near the La Brea Fire are under evacuation orders as a week-old wildfire continues to grow in northern Santa Barbara County.

Track U.S. wildfiresIn Alameda County, more than 300 firefighters were struggling to control a wind-driven grass fire that had grown to about 16 square miles near Tracy, said Aisha Knowles, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County Fire Department.

The Corral Fire was not threatening any structures but was moving toward the juncture of Interstate 5 and Interstate 580, where officials worried it could impact visibility and traffic. It was about 20 percent contained, Knowles said.

In Yuba County north of Sacramento, two separate wildfires began Friday. The blazes blackened 300 acres near Lake Francis, destroyed one home, forced the evacuation of about 60 residences and knocked out power in the Sierra foothills town of Dobbins, according to CalFire's Joann Cartoscelli.

In far northern California, firefighters lifted evacuation orders issued in connection with a nearly two-square-mile fire burning near Lewiston, about 200 miles north of Sacramento. The Coffin Fire was expected to be fully contained later Friday.

Trinity County District Attorney Michael Harper charged 60-year-old Brenda Eitzen of Los Molinos with two felonies and two misdemeanors alleging she negligently sparked the blaze by throwing away a lit cigarette Wednesday. The charges could bring a maximum four-year prison term.

Eitzen, who has no criminal history, was staying at a drug rehabilitation shelter at the time of the fire, Harper said.

To the east, 10 rural homes remained evacuated as wind spread a fire in steep terrain near Burney. Firefighters were using bulldozers to cut fire lines around the nearly 11-square-mile blaze about 200 miles north of Sacramento.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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