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Lightning sparks dozens of N. California fires

Thunderstorms sparked as many as 75 wildfires infar Northern California on Saturday as officials farther south got close to containing a blaze that forced thousands to evacuate.
Chris Simon, 12, walks through the remains of his home in Watsonville, Calif., Saturday. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thunderstorms sparked as many as 75 wildfires in a wilderness area in far Northern California on Saturday as officials farther south got close to containing a blaze that destroyed several homes and forced thousands to evacuate.

Storms overnight Friday were responsible for the large number of fires in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, near Redding. Those fires range in size from less than an acre to more than 750 acres.

None immediately threatened homes, said Forest Service spokesman Michael Odle. Teams moved in Saturday on the two largest fires.

South of San Francisco, a fire that burned homes and closed a stretch of highway was 90 percent contained, said officials of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Officials had expected full containment on Saturday, but hot weather and stubborn hot spots kept fire crews busy. Cal Fire now expects the fire to be fully contained on Sunday. So far, it had charred 630 acres, or less than a square mile.

Evacuation orders were lifted Saturday, a day after roughly 2,000 people fled their homes.

About 650 firefighters were working in hot, dry weather to contain the blaze, which destroyed as many as 15 buildings, including several homes, and closed scenic Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County for hours, fire officials said.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, Van Gerwen said.

It was the third major blaze to hit Santa Cruz County in the past month. A 520-acre blaze destroyed 11 buildings in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a fire near Corralitos covered more than 4,200 acres and destroyed about 100 buildings.

To the south along the coast, firefighters battled a nearly 80-square-mile fire in a remote part of the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County. It was about half contained Saturday.

California has been experiencing a heat wave that has contributed, along with the state's driest spring on record, to tinder-dry conditions, ripe for wildfires.

New Mexico struggles with fires
In New Mexico, hundreds of firefighters battled blazes in the northern and southern parts of the state that have charred more than 100 square miles, including more than 4,000 acres on a ranch owned by media mogul Ted Turner.

In a remote southeastern part of the state, lightning-sparked fires have scorched more than 95 square miles of mainly desert landscape.

The largest fire, 20 miles southwest of Hope, doubled in size Friday because of gusty winds and has charred more than 40,000 acres, or about 64 square miles. Two other blazes burning about 30 miles west of Roswell, have blackened more than 32 square miles, and officials say the fires could merge.

In northern New Mexico, another fire that began as two blazes burned nearly 7 square miles on Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch.