Hundreds Ordered to Evacuate as California Wildfire Grows

A huge wildfire grew significantly in a national forest, raining ash on communities miles away and forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their rural homes and campgrounds.

The month-old fire in northern Santa Barbara County has burned an estimated 44,400 acres — or 70 square miles — and was 60 percent contained, said Santa Barbara fire Capt. Eli Iskow. She said the fire was 60 percent surrounded.

Overnight crews will focus on protecting and preparing property — cutting down brush and connecting hoses, Iskow said.

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The month-old fire in northern Santa Barbara County has burned an estimated 60 square miles and was 70 percent contained. However, fire officials said the fire had grown Friday.

Authorities told hundreds of people to evacuate: 300 people in 160 homes, 300 people from five campgrounds, 75 children and 12 staff members from Los Prietos Boys Camp, and an unknown number from an RV camp, said William Boyer, a county spokesman.

No homes were immediately threatened, Boyer said, but evacuation was ordered because "the way the fire is moving, we want to give them enough time to get out."

The area is crowded with thousands of visitors for Santa Barbara's annual Old Spanish Days Fiesta.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the area and declared a state of emergency in the county to free up state resources for fighting the fire.

The blaze was started July 4 by sparks from equipment repairing a water pipe. To date, the fire has cost about $42.8 million to fight.

Firefighters battled blazes across the West and another in the eastern state of New Jersey.

In southwestern Montana, 25 houses threatened by a wind-whipped fire were ordered evacuated about 20 miles from Philipsburg, said Karen Semple, a fire information officer. The houses are east of a 2,400-acre fire, she said.

Other residents north of Helena who fled a 49-square-mile fire Thursday night were allowed to return to their homes.

Crews had contained 33 percent of the fire burning in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness since July 21.

In Washington state, at least 400 firefighters were being deployed to battle the nearly 500-acre blaze sparked by a helicopter crash on Thursday, fire information officer Scott Crawford said. Four people died in crash about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east-southeast of Seattle on the east slope of the Cascade Range.

In Idaho, fire crews contained a blaze that had scorched more than 1,000 square miles and forced the evacuation of two small towns near the Nevada line. Hot, dry conditions persisted as crews fought 13 other large fires that had burned 600 square miles across the state.

In New Jersey, another fire torched 3,000 acres — about 4.7 square miles — in a remote corner of the Wharton State Forest. Fire officials could not estimate when the blaze might be contained, but no homes have been threatened.

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