Forty homes were destroyed in a wind-driven wildfire that burned nearly 11 square miles and forced the evacuation of about 150 people in two small California towns at the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada, officials said Saturday.
The fire started near a highway on the border of Inyo and Mono counties Friday afternoon, and blew up when 50 to 75 mph winds whipped through wooded areas near Swall Meadows and the neighboring community of Paradise for about three hours, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. Liz Brown.
An incoming storm caused the winds to constantly shift direction, making it tough for firefighters to contain the blaze, she said. "We had to take defensive positions to protect as many structures as we could while protecting ourselves," Brown said. "We did what we could."
She said Swall Meadows was hit hard by the blaze — 39 homes were destroyed there while one burned in the community of Paradise. Firefighters gained the upper hand when rain moved in, and have contained 50 percent of the blaze. Brown said even rain wasn't enough to put out the fire because a three-year drought across California created extremely dry timber brush that fueled the flames. A firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
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