BERKELEY, Calif. – Hundreds of homes in the scenic community of Big Sur were threatened by a wildfire that already had burned 16 residences and was just 3 percent contained Wednesday.
About 700 wildfires, many of them sparked by a severe electrical storm over the weekend, burned across much of the state, a point driven home for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he traveled to central California to assess the damage there.
"I just took off with the plane down from Los Angeles and, literally from Los Angeles all the way up here, there was smoke, so you can see that there's fire everywhere," Schwarzenegger noted at a news conference in Monterey County.
Firefighters scrambled to tame the lightning-sparked wildfire in the Los Padres National Forest that has burned nearly 30 square miles near the coast about a mile south of Big Sur.
"Unfortunately, this fire is in an area that is going to be very difficult to stop, and expectations are there won't be any stopping this fire any time soon," said Mark Savage, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.
The state's largest fire was about 20 miles east in a more remote area of the Los Padres forest. It also vexed firefighters, having scorched more than 92 square miles and destroyed two homes. The blaze, sparked by an escaped campfire on June 8, was about 71 percent contained.
Monterey sheriff's officials said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for both fires, but could not specify how many people were forced from their homes. The Monterey County fires have cost $33 million to fight so far.
The governor also stopped Wednesday in Butte County, where 27 lightning-sparked fires covering about 8 square miles were threatening 1,000 homes. The blazes, which were only 5 percent contained, cropped up just as the county was recovering from a fire that charred 74 homes and 36 square miles earlier this month.
Schwarzenegger announced Wednesday that he allotted $20 million in emergency funds to help Butte County fight fire.
Several blazes also were burning in New Mexico, where a fire in thick trees in the Manzano Mountains prompted officials Wednesday to urge hundreds of people to leave their homes in and near Tajique, about 30 miles southeast of Albuquerque. About four dozen homes in the area burned in a wildfire last month.
The fire more than doubled in size Wednesday to about 1 1/2 square miles. It was less than 2 1/2 miles from Sherwood Forest subdivision, and previously forced the evacuation of a summer church camp.
More dry lightning was expected toward the end of the week in California, although forecasters did not expect as severe an electrical storm as last weekend, when nearly 8,000 lightning strikes sparked about 800 fires.
Fire crews have come in from Nevada and Oregon, and Schwarzenegger said he has called in the National Guard to help.
"The fact is that when you have that many fires — and there are still 700 fires left all over the state of California — you get stretched thin with the resources," Schwarzenegger said.
The storm struck California when the state was experiencing one of its driest years on record. Earlier this month, Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought and directed agencies to speed up water deliveries to drought-stricken areas.