FELTON, Calif. – Wind-driven wildfires raked Northern California for a second day Wednesday, including a raging forest fire that forced hundreds to evacuate in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Santa Cruz fire flared just two weeks after another blaze two miles away scorched 4,200 acres, or about 6 1/2 square miles, and destroyed at least three dozen homes. Late Wednesday, mandatory evacuations were ordered for 500 residents in the heavily forested hills north of the city. A thousand more residents fled their homes voluntarily, fire officials said.
The fast-moving fire in the Bonny Doon area grew to more than 300 acres, or about half a square mile, shortly after it broke out around 3 p.m. It could spread to as many as 1,000 acres before firefighters are able to slow it down, Battalion Chief Paul Van Gerwen said.
Jeanne Colbus, 60, who lives about five miles from Bonny Doon, said she and her 94-year-old mother quickly left their home after she saw smoke in the hills and received a call ordering them to evacuate.
"I was gardening and I looked up and saw that big column of smoke," said Colbus, who planned to spend the night at an emergency shelter in Felton, several miles from the blaze. "I'm scared. We don't have fire insurance for one thing. A lot of our things are irreplaceable."
In Butte County, several hundred homes were evacuated ahead of a fast-growing wildfire near Chico, about 90 miles north of Sacramento. The blaze, which started around noon, had grown to 6,000 acres -- or a little more than 9 square miles -- by Wednesday night and threatened about 250 structures. It was only about 10 percent contained.
A fire in the Los Padres National Forest in Monterey County had grown to 10,800 acres, or nearly 17 square miles, and was only 13 percent contained Wednesday night.
Hot temperatures, steady winds and tinder-dry vegetation created conditions exactly like those that fed the earlier blaze.
Those conditions also prevailed throughout the rest of Northern California, where hundreds of firefighters were deployed on fire lines from the North Coast wine country to the Central Valley.
For a second day, erratic wind gusts surprised firefighters who were overrun by flames.
Three firefighters burned near Lincoln, about 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, when they were caught in a 65-acre grass fire were being treated at the University of California, Davis Medical Center regional burn center in Sacramento, fire officials said.
Two were being treated for moderate to severe burns to their faces and arms, while the third was treated for facial burns and released, said Bill Mendonca, battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Firefighters battled a blaze near Palermo, about 60 miles north of the state capital, that damaged about 21 homes on Tuesday and threatened about 275 others, fire officials said.
"I grabbed a few pieces of clothing, my purse. My daughter grabbed her important papers and some clothing, whatever we could put in the car, and we left," said Debbie Buchman, who fled her home with her daughter and granddaughter and spent the night at a shelter. "We were hoping we would still have a home when we got back, but we didn't."
"The whole house was burnt to the ground, with everything we own," she said in a telephone interview. "It's pretty rough."
A Sacramento Metro Fire Department captain who suffered third-degree burns to his hands and second-degree burns to his arms while battling a grass fire southeast of the city on Tuesday underwent surgery at the burn center Wednesday.
"Doctors are saying he will fully recover, but it will take months," said Capt. Jeff Lynch, a department spokesman.
More than 70 firefighters battled the 6,400-acre fire Wednesday to make sure the wind didn't blow sparks across fire lines, he said.
Firefighters continued to battle blazes in Stockton, where 32 homes were damaged Tuesday, and near the coast in Monterey and Sonoma counties.
In Colorado, more than 50 firefighters were battling a lightning-sparked blaze at a remote U.S. Army training site about 160 miles south of Denver. The fire has burned about 20,000 acres, or about 31 square miles, inside Fort Carson's Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, spokeswoman Karen Linne said.
Across the country in eastern North Carolina, firefighters planned to burn harvested wheat fields to clear potential fuel for a wildfire burning in and around the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
About 50 homes were ordered evacuated because of the 62-square-mile wildfire, officials said. The fire, sparked June 1 by a lightning strike, is about 40 percent contained, officials said.
A fire at an under-renovation citrus processing facility in the southern Texas town of Palmview destroyed at least one building but no one was injured. About 45 workers were in the Rio Queen Citrus Inc. unit when the fire broke out and all were accounted for.